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NGO rescue ships finally released after month-long seizure in Italy

Meanwhile, a refugee woman gives birth on a dinghy stranded off the coast of Libya

TWO REFUGEE-rescue ships detained in an Italian port for over a month were finally given permission to leave today as refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean continued to be pushed back to Libya.

Italian authorities seized the Alan Kurdi and Aita Mari — ships operated respectively by German charity Sea Eye and the Basque non-government organisation Humanitarian Maritime Rescue (SMH)  — on May 5, following their rescue of nearly 200 people.

The vessels were subjected to protracted inspections by teams flown out from Rome, which then banned them from leaving the port until alleged safety failures were addressed.

Hamburg University maritime-law expert Valentin Schatz said that the requirements imposed on the Alan Kurdi were unlawful.

“The technical requirements imposed on the Alan Kurdi by the Italian Ministry of Transport do not correspond to [its] class,” Mr Schatz was quoted as saying in a Sea Eye press release yesterday.

“...[W]ith such illegal detentions, Italy is also violating the rights of the Federal Republic of Germany as the flag state of Alan Kurdi, which are guaranteed under international law, and is damaging the reputation of the German flag.”

SMH told the Star that the Italian authorities had allowed the Aita Mari to sail back to its home port in Pasaia to carry out maintenance to the ship but warned it would not be able to meet their requirements because they also did not correspond to the ship’s class.

“These almost 50 days in port have cost us more than €55,000 in special port fees, inspection and supplies in Palermo, to which we have had no recourse.

“This strategy… is the latest occurrence of European countries attacking rescue NGOs. With this economic damage they disrupt the efforts of dozens of volunteers who give their time to make the Aita Mari sail. And it generates uncertainty for the rest of the civil fleet ships. After this latest setback, we have to re-evaluate the options to return, as soon as possible, to ensure the right to life at sea.”

Meanwhile a woman gave birth today in a rubber dinghy that had been at sea for two days in the central Mediterranean, refugees told the distress hotline network Alarm Phone.

The activists warned that the refugees’ vessel, believed to be carrying around 95 people off the coast of Libya, was taking on water and at risk of capsizing.

“The boat is within the area patrolled by EU warships,” Alarm Phone tweeted today.

“The Italian warship Bergamini appears closest. We call on Europe to organise a rescue operation for the distressed immediately and to bring them to safety in Europe! [Black lives matter] also in the Mediterranean!”
As the Star went to press the Italian rescue organisation Mediterranea: Saving Humans said that its ship, the Mare Jonio, was heading to the dinghy’s co-ordinates and was 80 miles away.

More refugees were returned to war-torn Libya by the country’s EU-supported coastguard today for the second day in a row, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported.

The Libyan Coastguard returned 270 refugees to Tripoli this morning and 71 others early on Thursday.  

“Over 300 migrants were returned to Libya in the past 48 hrs,” IOM Libya’s chief of mission Federic Soda said.

“While our staff provide emergency assistance upon disembarkation and in detention, the safety of these people cannot be guaranteed.

“Many end up back in the same cycle of abuse. No one should be returned to Libya.”



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