[Eyes on the Central Med #8] Fewer departures, high risks – civil rescue organisations continue to mobilise in winter time

The following publication by SOS MEDITERRANEE intends to shed light on events which unfolded in the Central Mediterranean in the past two weeks. It is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather to provide a general update on maritime search-and-rescue-related matters occurring in the area we have been operating in since 2016, based on public reports by different NGOs, international organisations and the international press.   

Civil rescue NGOs continue to mobilise amidst administrative blockages

While no naval civil rescue asset is currently operating in the Central Mediterranean and six NGO ships are still blocked, the past two weeks brought some positive news from civil search and rescue.

After a renewed inspection, the Ocean Viking was granted authorization for a single voyage to sail to Augusta, Sicily, to go into shipyard. Some of the modifications to the ship made necessary by the change of interpretation of applicable regulations by the Italian authorities can only be made at a shipyard.

The Open Arms was able to leave the port of Trapani to call in the port of Barcelona after a 14-day-quarantine. NGO Proactiva-Open Arms intents to return to the Central Mediterranean for the ship’s next lifesaving mission as soon as possible.

Another civil rescue asset, the Aita Mari of Spanish NGO Salvamento Marítimo Humanitario (SMH), should reach the Central Mediterranean in a few weeks after stopovers in Portugal and Málaga, Spain.

Rescue organisations Sea-Eye and MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Stations) have announced an operative partnership on the SEA EYE 4, a new ship that Sea-Eye was able to acquire with the support of the civil society alliance United4Rescue. Sea-Eye and MOAS are planning to start joint missions in February 2021. MOAS was the first civil rescue organisation to operate in the Central Mediterranean in 2014 and will support Sea-Eye with rescue personnel, training, strategic expertise and fundraising.

Sea Watch announced the resumption of airborne operations with the Moonbird and the legal charges against two crew members of the Mare Jonio of NGO Mediterranea Saving Humans who were under investigation for “aiding and abetting illegal immigration” and “failure to comply with an order given by a military ship” in March 2019 have been dropped.

Fewer departures in winter time but dangers increase while political stalemate remains

In the week of November 24 to November 30, the bodies of 14 people washed up on Libyan shores according to the IOM. The date of the shipwreck that claimed these 14 lives is unknown.

Despite bad weather conditions, departures continued in the past two weeks and while no shipwrecks were reported, the possibility of “invisible shipwrecks” occurring without witnesses remains. Arrivals in Lampedusa continued, albeit not in numbers seen earlier this year. Over the weekend of the 5 and 6 December, 254 people reached Italian coasts.

Italy, Malta, Spain and Greece have sent comments on the proposed EU Pact on Migration and Asylum to the other member states, criticising that it is “too detailed and rigid in terms of the responsibility of the countries of first entry”, while “the solidarity mechanism remains complex and vague”. The signatories of the so called “Non-Paper” demand mandatory quotas for relocation of people who could qualify for refugee status among EU Member.

Possible Frontex involvement in pushbacks in the Aegean Sea demands further inquiry

The reports detailing the involvement of EU border enforcement agency Frontex in illegal pushbacks in the Aegean Sea continue to make headlines. Frontex Chief Fabrice Leggeri was questioned in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) of the European Parliament on the involvement of the European border agency in illegal push-backs. A “Management Board Working Group on Fundamental Rights and Legal and Operational Aspects of Operations” will be set up by the Frontex Management Board to look into allegations of the agency’s involvement in illegal pushbacks in the Aegean Sea and some Members of the European Parliament are seeking a formal parliamentary inquiry into the allegations.



Cover picture : Hara Kaminara / SOS MEDITERRANEE