ROME – Italy’s holding of a German NGO’s migrant rescue vessel in a port in the south of the country has left the Mediterranean Sea with no boats belonging to humanitarian organizations.
“Sea Watch 3” was being kept in the Sicilian port of Catania after Italian authorities said they had detected “irregularities” and the situation needed clarification.
Catania’s prosecutor opened an investigation after the vessel docked on Thursday with 47 migrants who had been at sea for 12 days.
In a tweet directed at the Italian coast guard, Sea Watch said: “The only thing in Catania that poses a ‘threat to the safety of navigation’ is the detention of the Sea Watch 3, which thus cannot fulfill its task of saving lives in the central Mediterranean.”
Those on board the ship waited for days on end for access to a port until Italy finally said the vessel could go to Catania. Italian authorities granted permission after a relocation agreement for the migrants was reached with seven other European countries.
Sea Watch 3 had been the only humanitarian vessel in the Mediterranean working to save lives and rescue migrants trying to reach Europe on barely-seaworthy boats.
Since Jan., Spanish authorities have prevented a boat from Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms from leaving Barcelona.
The NGO’s director Òscar Camps said his organization complied “with all the legal requirements” and defended the work of NGOs in the Mediterranean.
Last Wednesday, Camps took aim at the Spanish government on social media, saying plans were being drawn up to “reduce migration by 50 percent by leaving them in the largest well in the world.”
“In short, leave them to die deliberately to reduce the rate of immigration,” he added.
The “Aquarius” was also not out carrying out rescues, since its operators SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders announced in Dec. the end of its mission. Since setting off from France in Feb. 2016, the ship has rescued about 30,000 people from international waters.
Since June, the “Lifeline,” which belongs to a German NGO of the same name, has been held in Malta due to an administrative investigation after it brought 230 migrants to Valletta.
In Sept. 2017, Maltese NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) concluded its relief activities in the Mediterranean and moved its operations to Southeast Asia to help Rohingya refugees.
According to the United Nations, some 5,685 people have arrived to Europe via sea routes so far this year. The majority of those came to Spain (4,254), followed by Greece (2,233) and Italy (155).
Many thousands of migrants attempt to make the perilous crossing from North Africa to Europe every year in a bid to find a better life.