Report. For the first time, the BG Verkehr speaks out on the administrative detentions of NGO ships flying its flag: there is no legal basis for the requests of the Italian authorities.

German coast guard declares the Sea-Eye a safe vessel, rejecting Italian claims

Photo courtesy of Sea-Eye

“The Sea-Eye 4 poses no danger to navigation, the safety of people on board or the marine environment,” says BG Verkehr, the German equivalent of the Italian Coast Guard, albeit with peculiarities tied to Germany’s federal architecture. This is the public body in charge of ship certifications and safety checks, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Transport.

The German naval authority answered some questions from il manifesto about the administrative detention that the Italian Coast Guard ordered on June 5 for the Sea-Eye 4 in Palermo, at the end of its first mission in which it rescued 415 people. According to the officers who conducted the “port state control” inspection, the humanitarian ship had “several irregularities” that allegedly could have compromised the safety of the crew and shipwrecked people. “The inspection confirmed that the vessel’s collective rescue assets appear sufficient to accommodate a maximum number of 27 people,” the Coast Guard wrote.

According to the German authority, which for the first time is taking a public stance on the administrative detentions of NGO ships flying its flag, the Italian interpretation of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) is dubious. Article IV (b) on “force majeure” provides that as a result of the obligation imposed on the captain to transport shipwrecked persons, one must make an exception to the ordinary requirements.

According to BG Verkehr, the means of rescue could “never” be predicted in advance because the captain cannot possibly know how many people they might have to rescue. If such a number were to be indicated in the vessel’s safety certificate, as the Italian Coast Guard claims, that would create a conflict with “the captain’s obligation to provide assistance to all persons in danger without conditions.” The German flag agency also points out that the SOLAS Convention does not mention such a category as “rescue vessel,” nor any national requirements for a predetermined number of life-saving equipment for persons in distress.

In summary, according to BG Verkehr, there is no legal basis for the requests of the Italian authorities. In the last 13 months, among all German ships inspected in the ports of the 27 countries participating in the Paris MoU, there were 11 detentions. More than half concern NGO ships and occurred in Italian ports. This affair threatens to have serious effects on the entire fleet of German vessels. It’s unlikely that there won’t be any pushback.

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