Mediterranean: Nine new legal proceedings against civil search and rescue ships since June 2020

Over 1,000 people have died in the Mediterranean in 2020 and EU member states are still halting civilian search and rescue initiatives. An overview produced by the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) documents nine new legal proceedings against civil search and rescue ships seeking to operate in the Mediterranean since June 2020, making a total of 50 proceedings since the beginning of 2018. The proceedings launched since June are all administrative in nature, but some of the 50 invoke criminal law against the crews of rescue ships, the organisations operating them or the vessels themselves.


As the map produced by the FRA and included above shows, of 15 "assets" available (boats and aircraft), only five are currently in operation and just two of those are vessels (the Aita Mari and Open Arms) able to undertake search and rescue operations.

According to the FRA:

"Seven are blocked in ports pending legal proceedings (see assets in red), and two are docked due other reasons, such as mandatory maintenance work and temporary operation breaks (see assets in yellow). The map also displays the vessels and/or their crew subject to past or current legal proceedings."

Since June, two new vessels operated by NGOs - Sea-Watch 4 and Louise Michel - have attempted to commence search and rescue operations, but they are "currently blocked at ports due to administrative seizures," notes the FRA.

Source: December 2020 update - NGO ships involved in search and rescue in the Mediterranean and legal proceedings against them (FRA, link)

The table below is taken from a document produced by FRA (pdf). It shows proceedings against humanitarian organisations and/or their vessels as of 15 December 2020. Sources for the information are available in the PDF.

Key: P = Pending; A = Acquitted; C = Condemned

Vessel/NGO/individual concerned Legal procedures
Measures against individuals (crew members or NGO staff) State of play Measures against vessels State of play
ITALY
Mare Jonio' (operated by Mediterranea Saving Humans) Dec. 2020: The Tribunal of Agrigento (Sicily) closed the investigation and dismissed the case
March 2019: Investigation against the captain & the mission head for aiding illegal immigration and refusal of obedience to a warship by the Prosecutor of Agrigento (Sicily)
A Nov. 2020: Blocked in the port of Venice (Italy) for mandatory maintenance work as provided by the Italian Naval Register P
  Sept. and Oct. 2020: Denial of boarding to rescue staff of the NGO’s Rescue and Medical Team by the Italian Coast Guard at Port of Pozzallo (Sicily) and Port of Augusta (Sicily) respectively P Febr. 2020: The ship was released by the Palermo Court (Sicily)
Sept. 2019: Administrative seizure of the vessel in Licata (Sicily) for violating the Security Decree Bis
A
  Sept. and June 2020: investigations against the Captain & Ship-owner after disembarkation of rescue operations in Pozzallo (Sicily) for refusal of obedience to orders of Maritime Authorities - opened by the Office of Public Prosecutor in Ragusa (Sicily) P    
  Sept. 2019: 300.000 EUR fine for violating the Security Decree Bis      
  May 2019: investigations against the captain and the Mission Head for aiding illegal immigration and refusal of obedience to orders of Maritime Authorities) - opened by the Office of Public Prosecutor in Ragusa (Sicily) – pending before the Court in Agrigento (Sicily)   May 2019: Prosecutors of Agrigento (Sicily) did not uphold the seizure, but ordered another type of impoundment for more evidence to be collected.
May 2019: Seizure of the vessel in Lampedusa due to accusations against the captain and the Mission Head.
A
  March 2019: investigations and 66.000 EUR administrative fine against the captain and the Mission Head for aiding illegal immigration and refusal of obedience to orders of Maritime Authorities P March 2019: The ship was released
March 2019: Seizure of the vessel in Lampedusa due to accusations against the captain and the Mission Head
A
Open Arms' (operated by ProActiva Open Arms) Nov. 2020: The tribunal of Ragusa (Italy) dismissed the case
May 2019: Catania prosecutor’s office (Sicily) closed investigations against the captain & the mission head while the accusations for disobedience of the Ministry of the Interior orders are pending
March 2018: Investigation against the captain & the mission head on accounts of “criminal association” and “facilitation of irregular migration” (Catania) and on accounts of disobedience of Interior Ministry orders (Ragusa)
A Aug. 2019: The ship was released
Aug. 2019: Seizure of the vessel in Licata
by the Prosecutor of Agrigento (Sicily)
A
May 2018: The Criminal Court of Ragusa confirmed the release of the ship
April 2018: The Tribunal of Ragusa ordered the release of the ship
March 2018: Pre-trial seizure of the ship in Pozzallo (Sicily) because of a violation of the Code of Conduct for Rescue NGOs & jeopardising migrants’ lives
A
’Alan Kurdi’ (operated by Sea-Eye)     Oct. 2020: Administrative seizure in Olbia (Sardinia) due to technical irregularities related to maritime security (including transporting too many passengers) P
    August 2020: Sea-Eye files lawsuit against Italian Ministry of Transport and Palermo Port Authority for the blockage
June 2020: the Italian Coast Guard granted a single voyage authorisation to proceed to Spain to fix the issues
May 2020: Administrative seizure in Palermo (Sicily) for technical irregularities related to maritime security
P
‘Moonbird’ (reconnaissance aircraft operated by Sea Watch)     Oct. 2020: The aircraft was released
Sept. 2020: The aircraft was grounded by the Italian Civil Aviation authority for spending too many hours at sea and for risking to endanger ongoing SAR operations carried out by state actors and the safety of navigation in the area.
A
‘Sea-Watch 4’ (operated by Sea-Watch, , in collaboration with MSF)     Oct. 2020: The vessel appealed against the blockade
Sept. 2020: Administrative seizure at the port of Palermo (Sicily) for technical irregularities related to maritime security
P
’Aita Mari’ (operated by Salvamento Maritimo Humanitario (SMH))     July 2020: The vessel was released
May 2020: Administrative seizure in Palermo (Sicily) for technical irregularities related to maritime security
A
‘Ocean Viking’ (operated by SOS MEDITERRANEE - with Médecins Sans Frontières until May 2020)     July 2020: Administrative seizure at the port of Seized at Porto Empedocle (Siciliy) for technical irregularities related to maritime security (granted a single voyage authorisation to proceed to shipyard in Augusta (Sicily) in Nov. 2020) P
‘Sea-Watch 3’ (operated by Sea-Watch) Jan. 2020: Court of Cassation
(Rome) rejected the appeal of the Public Prosecutor of Agrigento (Sicily) on the validation of the arrest. Criminal proceeding still ongoing
July 2019: No validation of the arrest by the Court of Agrigento (Sicily), hence captain released
June 2019: Investigation of the captain for resistance or violence against warships and aiding illegal immigration by Prosecutor of Agrigento (Sicily). House arrest in Lampedusa
A/P July 2020: Administrative seizure of the vessel at the port of for technical irregularities related to maritime security (granted a single voyage authorisation to proceed to Burriana (Spain) in Sept. 2020) P
Dec. 2019: The Civil Court of Palermo (Sicily) ordered the release of the ship from the administrative seizure
Sept. 2019: The ship was released from the criminal seizure
June 2019: Criminal seizure of the vessel in Licata (Sicily); followed by an administrative seizure in July 2019
A
May 2019: Investigation of the captain for aiding illegal immigration & hearing of captain by the Prosecutor of Agrigento (Sicily) P June 2019: The ship was released
May 2019: Seizure of the vessel in Lampedusa (Sicily)
A
Febr. 2019: Case discontinued and no investigations were initiated; crew cleared of all accusations
Jan. 2019: Investigation against crew members for violating environmental laws, navigation safety, and facilitating illegal immigration by the Prosecutor of Catania (Sicily)
Jan. 2020: The criminal case against the captain & the mission head was closed and all charges were dismissed
March 2019: Investigation against the captain & the mission head for aiding illegal immigration and refusal of obedience to a warship by the Prosecutor of Agrigento (Sicily)
A    
A March 2019: The ship was released
March 2019: Seizure of the vessel in Lampedusa due to accusations against the captain and the Mission Head
A
’Alex Mediterranea’ (operated by Mediterranea Saving Humans) July 2019: Investigation against the captain and the mission head for aiding of illegal immigration and refusal of obedience to a warship by the Prosecutor of Agrigento (Sicily) & 66.000 EUR fine for violating the Security Decree Bis P February 2020: The ship was released
July 2019: Seizure of vessel in Lampedusa for violating the Security Degree Bis
A
’Eleonore’ (operated by Mission Lifeline) Sept. 2019: Investigation against the captain and the mission head for aiding of illegal immigration by the Prosecutor of Ragusa (Sicily) & 300.000 EUR fine for violating the Security Decree Bis P Sept. 2019: Administrative seizure of the vessel in Pozzallo (Sicily) for violating the Security Decree Bis P
‘Aquarius’ (operated by SOS SOS MEDITERRANEE e & MSF) Nov. 2018: Staff members of both the Vos Prudence (operations from March to July 2017) and Aquarius (operations from January 2017 to May 2018) under investigation initiated by the Prosecutor of Catania (Sicily) for “illegal management of waste” P Jan. 2019: The Court of Catania (Sicily) annulled the decision on the seizure of 200.000 EUR
Nov. 2018: The Prosecutor of Catania (Sicily) ordered the seizure of the vessel ’Aquarius’ in absentia (while docked in Marseilles) and the seizure of 200.000 EUR from MSF
A
‘Vos Prudence’ (operated by MSF)
‘Iuventa’ (operated by Jugend Rettet) July 2018: Prosecutor of Trapani (Sicily) extended investigations to individual (former) crew members P April 2018: The Supreme Court of Cassation (Rome) confirmed the seizure of the ship
Aug. 2017: The ship was ordered to the port of Lampedusa
Aug. 2017: Prosecutor initiated a preventive seizure of the ship
C
‘Astral’ (operated by ProActiva Open Arms)     June 2018: Prohibition of docking P
‘Vos Hestia’ (operated by Save the Children) Oct. 2017: Captain interviewed by the Deputy Prosecutor of Trapani and investigation discontinued
Oct. 2017: Police search on board after an undercover agent worked on the ship
A    
‘Golfo Azzurro’ (operated by ProActiva Open Arms) June 2018: Tribunal of Palermo discontinued the investigation
May 2017: Criminal investigations against unknown persons involved in migrant smuggling initiated by the Prosecutor of Palermo (Sicily)
A    
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) (no vessel, only staff subject to investigations) Aug. 2017: Investigations against MSF staff for aiding irregular migration by Prosecutor of Trapani (Sicily) P    
SPAIN
‘Louise Michel’ (operated by M.V. Louise Michel     Oct. 2020: Blocked at the port of Burriana (Spain) for registration issues P
‘Open Arms’ (operated by ProActiva Open Arms)     April 2019: Spanish authorities have allowed the vessels to deliver humanitarian aid to refugee camps in Lesvos and Samos but not to conduct SAR operations
Jan. 2019: Spanish Maritime Authorities deny permission to sail due to “violations of maritime regulations”, ships blocked in Spain
A
‘Aita Mari’ (operated by the Humanitarian Maritime Rescue Association (SMH))
GERMANY
‘Mare Liberum’ (operated by Mare Liberum)     September 2020: the Administrative Court of Hamburg granted the ship permission to set sail
April 2020: Seizure of the ship on the basis of safety requirements by the German Professional Association for Transport and Traffic, and appeal against the application of the law change
Sept. 2019: Higher Administrative Court of Hamburg confirmed the Administrative Court decision
May 2019: The Administrative Court of Hamburg granted the ship permission to set sail
April 2019: Seizure of the ship on the basis of safety requirements by the German Professional Association for Transport and Traffic
A
THE NETHERLANDS
‘Sea-Watch 3’ (operated by Sea-Watch)     August 2019: The court in The Hague ruled on the appeal lodged by Sea Watch and extended the transitional period until December 2019
May 2019: The court in The Hague ruled that the new requirements were legal but the transitional period too short. The judges removed the blockade and suspended the recent requirements until 15 August 2019
April 2019: Dutch government imposed more stringent technical safety requirements for the ship without a transition period & blocked the ship
Feb. 2019: The flag state granted the ship permission to set sail again
Jan. 2019: Extensive inspections mandated by the Dutch authorities, ship blocked in Italy
A
‘Lifeline’ (operated by Mission Lifeline) See description of proceedings for Malta below   See description of proceedings for Malta below  
‘Seefuchs’ (operated by Sea-Eye)
‘The Sea Eye’ (operated by Sea-Eye)
MALTA
‘Lifeline’ (operated by Mission Lifeline) Jan. 2020: Maltese Appeal Court overturned the decision and cleared the captain of all charges
May 2019: Court of Valletta fined the captain 10,000 EUR for operating a ship that was not properly registered for rescue operations
July 2018: Accusation by the Public Prosecutor’s Service against the captain for not following orders of the Italian MRCC & entering Maltese territorial waters illegally
A July 2018: ‘Lifeline’ impounded
July 2018: Maltese authorities launched investigations due to potential issues with the registration of the ship under the Dutch flag
C
‘The Sea Eye’ (operated by Sea-Eye)     July 2018: Maltese authorities blocked the ship and launched investigations due to potential issues with the registration of the ships under the Dutch flag No information available
‘Seefuchs’ (operated by Sea-Eye)     Dec. 2018: The ship was released
July 2018: Maltese authorities blocked the ship and launched investigations due to potential issues with the registration of the ships under the Dutch flag
A
‘Sea-Watch 3’ (operated by Sea-Watch)     Oct. 2018: The vessel was released
July 2018: Maltese authorities blocked the ship and launched investigations due to potential issues with the registration of the ships under the Dutch flag
A
Moonbird (operated jointly by Sea-Watch and Humanitarian Pilots Initiative)     Oct. 2018: the aircraft resumed operations
July 2018: Authorities blocked the aircraft due to lacking permits for SAR operations
A
GREECE
Emergency Response Centre International Dec. 2018: The accused were released on bail
Aug. 2018: At least ten NGO staff members arrested and criminal investigations started for migrant smuggling, espionage and membership in a criminal organisation by the police in Mytilene (Lesvos)
P    
Three volunteers (Spanish firefighters) working for the NGO PROEM-AID (no vessel seized) May 2018: the Court in Mytilene acquitted the accused volunteers
2017: Criminal charges and indictment for attempting to traffic people (Local court of Mytilene)
Jan. 2016: Arrest and detention of the volunteers by the Public Prosecutor of Mytilene
A    
A volunteer working for Team Humanity

 

 

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