Italian government’s dream, migrants’ nightmare, harassment of the Civil fleet

At the very moment when the spread of the global state of war with the tragedy in the Middle East distracts public opinion attention from the permanent humanitarian crisis in North Africa and the central Mediterranean sea, a new offensive by the Italian government against the ships of the Civil Fleet has begun.

Three clues make more than one proof: this is the case with last August detention of AURORA SAR, the fast asset of Sea-Watch in October, and more recently with the ships MARE JONIO of Mediterranea and SEA-EYE 4 of the German organization of the same name last October.

In fact, in August, AURORA had been assigned Trapani by Italian authorities as Place of Safety (PoS), but the remaining fuel was not enough to reach Sicily from the location of rescue operation: the only  option  was  Lampedusa.  Italian MRCC Rome then  instructed  them  to  ask  for  a  PoS  in Tunisia, but AURORA denied. This seemed immediately as an attempt to legitimize the EU-Tunisia agreement. AURORA proceeded to Lampedusa and she was then detained for a second  time, with reference to the Italian law “Piantedosi Decree” with the formal motivation of “putting the rescued people in danger by not disembarking them in the closest port of Zarzis, Tunisia“. They did not find any other reason to detain the ship.

Sea-Watch appealed the detention: “According to the Italian authorities, they had to disembark in Trapani, where Aurora could not arrive; or in Tunisia, where human rights are not guaranteed. Landing in Lampedusa was the only possible option for Aurora given the ship’s limited resources of fuel, food and drinking water to reach the port of Trapani.”

In October came the tenth administrative detention of a civil SAR asset by the Italian authorities in 2023 with reference to the Piantedosi Decree, issued in January and validated by the Parliament on February 24th. After a second rescue of 69 persons in the Libyan SAR region, approximately 70 nautical miles off Zuwara, MARE JONIO was detained by the Italian authorities in the port of Trapani.

Upon disembarkation on October 18th, the captain and shipowner were notified that the Italian-flagged ship would be impounded for 20 days and that the organization would have to pay the usual fine for allegedly failing to follow the instructions of the MRCC Rome to contact the so-called “Libyan Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre” and place themselves under its authority; secondly, failing to request the Libyan authorities for the designation of a port of disembarkation.

Less than ten days later came the eleventh 2023 administrative detention: that is the third administrative detention for SEA-EYE 4. On October 27th, Italian authorities placed the ship in chains for another 20 days and fined the Organisation for allegedly “ignoring orders from the Libyan coast guard.

The Italian MRCC accuses the captain of failing to follow the instructions of the so-called Libyan coast guard who, with the threat of violence, had ordered SEA-EYE 4 in international waters to move northwards and then chased a rubber boat carrying around 50 people to the point that panic broke out and some people fell into the water. SEA-EYE 4, refusing to obey the inhumane Libyan orders, was instead able to rescue and assist the people, some of them in serious health conditions, unfortunately finding four already dead inside the rubber boat.

Sea Eye released video footage of the incident that clearly shows the Libyans performing dangerous maneuvers in the immediate vicinity of the inflatable boat. “The captain of the Libyan coast guard vessel dangerously pursued and harassed the rubber boat while his crew simultaneously stood by the railing smoking cigarettes and filming on their mobile phones. This has nothing whatsoever to do with sea rescue,” says Jan Ribbeck, head of mission of Sea-Eye e.V. Due to the reckless and aggressive behavior of the so-called Libyan coast guard, at least four people lost their lives. “If the SEA-EYE 4 had left the sea area, even more people would have died and no one would have known about this tragedy.”

Commenting on its own appeal against the detention, filed on November 2nd in the Court of Trapani, and the other two cases, MEDITERRANEA claims:

“The motivations for the measures affecting the MARE JONIO are shown to be totally “illegitimate” in the appeal presented to the judges in Trapani: the Captain and shipowner are accused of ‘not having informed’ the Libyan coordination center and, above all, of not having asked Libya for a port of disembarkation.In essence, the Italian Government wanted us to be complicit in the deportation of the shipwrecked people to Libya, the very country from which the 69 women, men and children were fleeing.In fact, the appeal quotes the most significant excerpts from reports by United Nations bodies and agencies describing and documenting “the conditions to which migrants are forced in Libyan detention centres, which constitute torture and inhumane and degrading treatment” and the proven complicity of the so-called “coast guard” and other Libyan state authorities with human traffickers and those responsible for abuse and violence against migrants, who are detained and obliged into forced labour and enslavement.

The captain of the MARE JONIO has instead done his duty in full compliance with Italian and International law, obeying not only sound ethical and moral principles, but also the Hamburg SAR and Geneva Asylum Conventions, refusing instead to submit to instructions that would have been extremely serious violations of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Fundamental Charter of the European Union, as well as our constitutional principles.

Our lawyers also recall the numerous, now definitive, pronouncements of the Italian Justice in this regard: from the cases of the MARE JONIO herself in March and May 2019, to the sentence of the Highest Court for the Captain Carola Rackete in June 2019 to the conviction of the Captain of the ASSO 28 off-shore supply-ship for having brought a group of shipwrecked people back to Tripoli.

Illegitimate, therefore, is the Italian Government’s demand that the MARE JONIO hand over to the “Libyan authorities” the 69 people rescued on board, and illegitimate are the sanction and detention that affected the ship. Even more serious is the attempt – evident in the similar measures that hit SW AURORA SAR and, more recently, SEA-EYE 4 – to impose Libya and Tunisia as “safe ports” when it is under everyone’s eyes how handing over people rescued at sea to the militias and military of those countries would mean condemning to a tragic fate women, men and children who are seeking protection in Europe.

MEDITERRANEA does not stand for this, and the proceedings against the detention of the MARE JONIO that will open in the Court of Trapani will be an opportunity for us to obtain not only the cancellation of the measures that have affected our ship, but also an unequivocal condemnation of the violations of fundamental rights that take place, with the complicity of the Italian Government, in the Mediterranean.”

Since the disembarkation in Tunisia or Libya of persons rescued at sea is the worst nightmare for the people on the move and the obsessive dream of Italian and European governments, this renewed offensive against the Civil fleet must not be underestimated: any attempt to do so must be beaten in every possible way.