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Sea Watch wins legal appeal in Italian court, freeing their rescue ship

GERMAN refugee-rescue charity Sea Watch won a legal appeal in an Italian civil court today freeing their ship, the Sea Watch 3, which had been impounded since the summer.

The Italian authorities impounded the Sea Watch 3 in June after its captain, Carola Rackete, defied former far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini by entering the port of Lampedusa and disembarking 40 rescued refugees after an 18-day stand-off at sea.

“Today’s verdict confirms that there is no legal basis for the authorities to keep our ship in port, an act Sea Watch has long claimed was solely politically motivated,” the charity said in a statement yesterday.  

“After a long history of being subjected to criminalisation, intimidation and blockade, today’s court decision is a confirmation of the legality of our work, which Sea-Watch expects all EU member states to acknowledge and respect as a minimum.”

Sea Watch spokeswoman Haidi Sadik told the Star that though the decision to free the ship was welcome, it came many months too late.

“It seems that in Europe, we have become so accustomed to this level of abuse of power, so comfortable in this culture of violation with impunity, that ‘allowing’ a civil rescue ship to do its work is seen as a generosity, Ms Sadik said. 

“It is not, it is the bare minimum the law stipulates, and therefore Sea-Watch is not now legitimised by Italy or any European government, but always has been legitimate. 

“This is great news only because it means we have a chance to try to find and rescue people who would otherwise likely die or get pulled back to Libya. But in every other way, this is still terrible news for the state of European politics and policies; violent border control, clampdown on human rights work and irresponsible governance.”

Sea Watch says it is preparing to return to the Mediterranean and begin rescue missions as soon as possible.

The EU abandoned its own search-and rescue-operations in April after pressure from Italy’s then far-right-populist coalition government, leaving all rescues to the civil fleet.

The bloc also increased its funds and logistical support to the so-called Libyan coastguard, which has pushed back roughly 8,500 refugees to the war-torn country, a crime under international law.

Other civil refugee rescue ships are still being detained across the Mediterranean.

These include Jugend Rettet’s Iuventa, which has been locked up in Trapani, Italy for 872 days; Mission Lifeline’s Lifeline and Eleonore, which have been trapped in Valletta, Malta for 542 days and Pozzallo, Italy for 111 days respectively, and Mediterranea’s Mare Junio, which has been stuck in Licata, Italy for 110 days.

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