Italy: Police operation against life-saving civil society organisation


At dawn on Monday 1 March the Italian authorities launched an operation against the NGO Mediterranea Saving Humans, which undertakes missions in the Mediterranean to save people in distress at sea, accusing them of receiving money in exchange for taking on board migrants who had been rescued by the Maersk Etienne tanker.

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According to a report in The Maritime Executive, four people connected to Mediterranea are under investigation.

A statement published by the Ragusa public prosecutor's office (pdf) says that the operation concerns the offences of aiding and abetting illegal immigration and violating the maritime navigation code.

The prosecutor's statement claims that Mediterranea took on board 27 people who had been rescued by the Maersk Etienne tanker "after the conclusion of an agreement of a commercial nature between the owners of the two ships, by virtue of which . . . the Mare Jonio received a large sum as consideration."

The Maersk Etienne stand-off saw 27 people who had been rescued at sea held in makeshift conditions on the tanker for 38 days after the Maltese authorities refused to let the ship dock.

Eventually they were transferred to the Mediterranea vessel Mare Jonio, which was also refused permission to enter harbour in Malta and eventually travelled to Sicily.

The NGO says in a press release that it "has never been involved in anything illegal and will prove this in the appropriate venue... Mediterranea will not stop because of this sad and predictable attack."

In the wake of the police raids, Maersk also issued a statement on the rescue:

"It was a humanitarian situation and we want to clarify that at no time before or during the operation was any financial compensation or support discussed or agreed.

Months after the rescue operation Maersk Tankers met with representatives from Mediterranena to thank them for their humanitarian assistance. Following this meeting, we decided to make a contribution to Mediterranea to cover some of the costs they endured as a result of the operation. This was done in the amount of 125,000 euros and with the full support of Maersk Tankers’ management.

At this time, we have not been contacted by the authorities in connection with the investigation, but we are ready to assist, if approached.

The operation against Mediterranea is one of a growing number of legal actions against organisations working to save peoples' lives at sea.

Note: this article was updated on 12 March to include the quote from Maersk's statement.

The text below is a press release published by Mediterranea Saving Humans on 1 March 2021.

This morning at dawn, a major police operation against Mediterranea Saving Humans was carried out. Ragusa’s public prosecutor’s office executed search warrants involving dozens of agents throughout Italy: in homes, in social centers, and on the ship, Mare Jonio. The charges are serious but the real target is the civil rescue operation at sea that Mediterranea has carried out since 2018 through its shipping company, Idra social shippping, which provides the association with the search and rescue ship and manages its crews and equipment.

Ragusa’s public prosecutor has made public his personal crusade against ONGs many times having declared that “it is necessary to not allow for the idea that removing migrants from the hands of the Libyans is acceptable.” What happened today is a true and real “judiciary theorem” in which the activities of search and rescue are assumed to be prearranged as profit-making schemes. This hypothesis so contrived that the primary and true objective of this operation is obvious: to create “a mud slinging machine” as we have often seen in action in our country- from the case of Mimmo Lucano to present-day investigations of anyone involved in supporting migrants who travel the Baltic route, and the shooting point blank of anyone, who like us, does not resign themselves to the already hundreds of deaths of women, men and children left to die in the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year or to the already thousands captured at sea and deported to the Libyan concentration camps that are financed with the money of the European Union and Italy. The searches are meant to find “evidence” because the charges, despite thousands of hours of phone taps and surveillance, are, in reality, founded on speculation that will melt like snow under the sun.

The rescue of 27 shipwrecked people by the Maersk Etienne who were abandonned at sea in betwen Malta and Lampedusa for 38 days on board a container ship which brough them to safety is the event under examination. This event was named “the shame of Europe,” this inhumane abandonment, the longest standoff in memory involving shipwrecked people who in theory, according to International Conventions, have the right to reach a safe port “promptly.” Idra social shipping has never been involved in anything illegal and will prove this in the appropriate venue. And, Mediterranea will not stop because of this sad and predictable attack. Mediterranea will continue to be at sea- there where crimes of slaughter, torture, rape and persecution are carried out.

Image: Mediterranea Saving Humans

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