Migrant rescue ship granted temporary shelter from storm in Italian waters

Sea-Watch 3 was granted temporary shelter by Italy, who had previously refused it entry to dock. Credit: Daniel Ferro

A charity ship that recently rescued 47 mainly sub-Saharan African migrants, including 6 unaccompanied minors, from a sinking rubber boat in international waters north of Zuwara, Libya has been allowed to anchor in Italian waters following refusal to dock at any ports in Italy or Malta.

Authorised by Italian authorities to seek solace in the storm, Sea-Watch 3 is currently anchored off Sicily, around 1.4 nautical miles from the port of Augusta, Marina di Melilli, Siracusa, while it provides medical care to those rescued. However, the Italy’s ports remain firmly closed.

The refusal to let the ship dock at a safe port comes as Italy’s interior Minister Matteo Salvini strengthens his mantra to not allow any migrants to disembark in the country. Therefore, the ship will enjoy only temporary off-shore anchorage and still awaits permitted entry to a safe port.

Kim Heaton-Heather, Head of Operations on Sea-Watch 3 said in a statement posted on the not-for-profit organisation’s website, “We’re incredibly glad we found them in time. With a European Union that neither wants to rescue nor cooperate, it is the few civilian rescuers doing their best in saving lives and defending human rights at sea.”

This isn’t the first time that Sea-Watch 3 has been refused entry from ports with rescued migrants onboard.  The rescue ship previously sought a safe port in which to dock for a total of 19 days after rescuing 32 people in December 2018.

As more charity rescue vessels get refused entry to ports, or in some cases deflagged, the charity Human Rights at Sea has merchant ships will be increasingly involved in mass rescue efforts in the Mediterranean in the absence of search and rescue vessels. However, it notes that merchant operators may not be trained to carry out these activities, and may not have the necessary equipment.

The charity Sea-Watch has issued its urgent call to action once again, demanding a quick solution to the issue according to international law. A statement on their website reads: “The moral bankruptcy of denying people their fundamental rights by keeping them hostage at sea for 19 days must not be repeated. Europe is not only letting people drown, it is actively hindering those willing to help. This deadly policy must be ended now, we don’t have the time to wait for European leaders carrying out their conflicts on the back of people in need.”

Sea-Watch e.V. claim that the Sea-Watch 3 is currently the only civil rescue ship in the Mediterranean, solely accompanied by the reconnaissance aircraft Moonbird.