“After Italy, here is Malta as well. Good, put a stop to the new slave traffic,” Interior Minister Salvini wrote Monday on social media, commenting on the decision by Malta to detain the ship of the German NGO Sea Watch. The ship is currently not allowed to leave the island, but the authorities have not provided any legal reasons for this.
The Sea Watch 3 is not registered as a leisure vessel or a sports vessel, like the Lifeline and Seefuchs (both also belonging to German organizations and currently sequestered in La Valletta), but is duly registered in the maritime register of the Netherlands: “We have the full right to fly the Dutch flag,” Sea Watch said in a statement, and “the refusal of permission to leave Malta is not an issue related to the registration of the ship, but a political campaign to stop rescue operations at sea.”
Sea Watch has had its logistical base in Malta for the past two years. The ship returned to port in mid-June and has remained on the island for 10 days for a maintenance review. Monday it was supposed to return to sea, but on Sunday an email message arrived: “Please note that in line with standing instructions, the vessel Sea Watch 3 is not permitted to depart from port. The situation and status of the vessel is under review,” and as a result it is not being allowed to leave the port.
Giorgia Linardi, spokeswoman for the German NGO, explains: “We do not know what legal basis this detainment has. There is no injunction by the judiciary, and we have no document that would explain what is happening. This is certainly an abusive attitude and one which violates our rights.”
On Friday, the Maltese authorities boarded to check the ship’s papers and the crew was taken to the immigration office. “It does not appear that they found any irregularities,” Linardi said. “We are stuck in the port on the basis of a political statement. We are not forcing their hand on this because we want to show how absurd this restriction is.”
On Sunday, 63 people were counted as missing in another shipwreck off Libya, in the Sar area, where no humanitarian ship is now present: “We are not able to do rescue operations,” Linardi explains, “and, sadly, with mathematical certainty, the number of deaths is increasing. In spite of the EU’s ambitions in this regard, the reality is that the Libyan Coast Guard cannot cope with the flow of people who are leaving its shores and are sadly drowning. Any further deaths at sea are the responsibility of those who are preventing rescue operations.”
To the Italian Interior Minister, she had this to say: “I would hope that, if Salvini had seen with his own eyes how these people are found in the sea, if he had collected the dead bodies with his own hands, he would realize how the policy that he is implementing is senseless and inhuman, and that migration policies are not an object of discussion when at sea. This is a restriction on the freedom of European citizens, who are lawfully carrying out activities that should have been carried out by government agencies. NGOs are the first actors of civil society who are bearing the costs of a government that intends to trample on other rights as well.”