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THE civil refugee-rescue fleet has returned to the Mediterranean for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic started sweeping across Europe.
German charity Sea Eye announced today that its ship the Alan Kurdi had set sail from Spain on Monday afternoon and expects to reach the Libyan search-and-rescue zone at the weekend.
“Despite all the difficulties, my crew showed up, trained and ready for action,” said the ship’s captain Barbel Beuse.
“How could we stay in port now when not a single rescue vessel is currently present? As human beings, it is our duty to do everything reasonable to save other people’s lives,” she said.
The charity has established a Covid-19 management plan and says that it has sufficient personal protective equipment for all on board.
“We are fully anticipating a scenario where the coastal authorities could deny us entry, citing these public-health concerns,” Sea Eye spokesman Simon Pompe told the Star. “We think this concern would be misplaced.
“People are still dying on the Mediterranean and the dangerous [crossings] are not stopped by the virus.
“If they are in an emergency, the law of the sea requires them to be saved by nearby ships, period. It is simply not an option to cease rescuing. The question then of entering a safe harbour is another.
“What if a regular transport freighter had an outbreak on board, or a cruise ship? Would they be denied a harbour by European coastal states?
“Or would they not, rather, be taken in, made subject to the appropriate health precautions such as quarantining and then sent on their merry way?
“So, the responsibility of coastal states to provide a safe harbour is not paused during corona times.
“We rely on the political weight of our flag state to remind the southern [EU] member states of that, and we're staying in close contact with German authorities.
“As usual, once we have rescued people on board, we negotiate and we wait for safety. But fleeing people, too, deserve it — just as European citizens do. Corona doesn't change that.”
Another civil refugee-rescue organisation, Mediterranea: Saving Humans, welcomed the Alan Kurdi’s return.
“The global health emergency has not stopped the departures, shipwrecks, captures and the human-rights violations in the Libyan hell,” the Italian charity tweeted today.
“Rescue and solidarity in the central Mediterranean are needed now more than ever.”
In a Twitter post, Charlie Yaxley, the UN refugee agency’s spokesman for Africa and the Mediterranean, also thanked Sea Eye.
“Europe may be in the midst of tackling the spread of Covid-19,” he said, “but the need for search and rescue boats to save the lives of refugees and migrants in peril on the Mediterranean continues.
“Thank you [Sea Eye] for your lifesaving efforts.”
Charity ships, known collectively as the civil fleet, have been the only refugee-rescue vessels in the Mediterranean since April 2019, when the EU ended its anti-human-trafficking military mission Operation Sophia — thought to have saved over 50,000 lives.
No civil-fleet ships have been able to return to the Mediterranean since Italy placed the Ocean Viking and the Sea Watch 3 in quarantine last month.
Today, the Council of the European Union announced a replacement for Operation Sophia. Operation Irini’s core task, the council said, will be “the implementation of the UN arms embargo through the use of aerial, satellite and maritime assets.”
In a restricted document seen by the Star least month, the European External Action Service said the new mission’s ships could be deployed “at least 100km off the Libyan coast, where chances to conduct rescue operations are lower.”
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