The Malta Independent 20 November 2018, Tuesday

MV Lifeline captain charged with entering Maltese waters on unlicensed vessel, bail given

Kevin Schembri Orland Monday, 2 July 2018, 10:23 Last update: about 6 months ago

The captain of the MV Lifeline Claus-Peter Reisch was arraigned in court today, after the vessel MV Lifeline was allowed to dock and disembark 234 migrants last week.

The presiding magistrate is Joe Mifsud, with Inspectors Daryl Borg and Mario Haber acting as proscuting officers while Gianluca Cappitta, Neil Falzon and Cedric Mifsud appearing as defence counsel.

Reisch, 57, born in Munich Germany, was charged with, as captain of the vessel Lifeline, entering Maltese territorial waters illegally and without proper registration and a licence. The prosecuting officers are also requesting the court to order the confiscation of the ship.

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He was granted bail on a personal guarantee of 10,000 euros and has to deposit his passport in court. The case will continue on 5 July. If convicted, the captain faces a maximum jail term of one year and an 11,600 euro fine, or a combination of both.

The MV Lifeline was allowed to enter Malta after eight European Union member states, later joined by Norway, agreed to ‘share’ the immigrants. The vessel had been stranded between Malta and Libya for six days, after a dispute between Malta and Libya over who should take in the vessel.

Both Italy and Malta had accused Reisch of disobeying instructions when he refused to take the immigrants back to Libya. The NGO has since argued that doing so would have jeopardised the safety of the immigrants on board, as most had been imprisoned or tortured in Libya.

The NGO’s co-founder Axel Steier stated on Wednesday that they “always respect international law” and said that they have documents, both on the ship and at their offices in Germany, to prove that the claims of the Dutch government in relation to their registration (where the Dutch had formally refuted that the vessel is registered under their flag) are false.

The Lifeline has since been impounded by Maltese authorities and it is expected that the ship will remain in the custody of the authorities until the necessary investigations are completed.

A group of activists supporting the captain have turned up at the law courts wearing T-shirts bearing the words "Save lives" while a sheet with the words "Rescue ships blocked 400 dead" is being held outside the building.

Malta last week ordered ports to be closed to departing/arriving NGO ships pending the conclusion of the investigation into MV Lifeline's activities.

Below is a minute by minute account of the court proceedings today:

12.04pm: Sitting has now ended. Case will continue on 5 July.

12.02pm: Bail was granted against a personal guarantee of 10,000 euros. Captain is to deposit passport in court. He has to sign the bail book at Cospicua police station every Friday. 12pm: The prosecution said, regarding bail conditions, that the captain should not be allowed to leave the country, insisting that the captain's passport and id card had to be submitted in court.

11.56am: The court appointed Pierre Zammit Endrich as another court expert, to survey the ship, indicating that it did not want to just rely on photos of the vessel and an on-site visit.

11.53am: An argument broke out over the possibility of an appointment of a surveyor, at which point the the defence argued that the charges are related to the registration of the ship, and not anything else. The Magistrate said that if more charges are added, the defence would have to be notified. The defence is insinuating that the charges were due to foreign pressure.

11.50am: The Magistrate highlighted that the vessel, since not presented in court, is not under the court's care, and the prosecution recommended that a skeleton crew be allowed to man the ship for safety reasons.  The defence said that a system is already in place, stating that a passport is already needed to board the vessel.

11.49am: The court is now considering what to do with the ship. By law, a skeleton crew is required to remain on board. But the court is restricting access to it to preserve evidence.

11.46am: The defence asked why the prosecution is focusing on the vessel being a pleasure craft, at which point the inspector said that the ship has no registration, neither as a pleasure craft nor as anything else.  The inspector's testimony and cross-examination ended

11.42am: The defence asked whether the prosecution moved the case forward based on what Transport Malta had said, despite having the registration in hand. "This is why I am asking what triggered the charges." The inspector said it was not hearsay. He said the alleged certificate is a photcopy not the original and that the captain still has it. The inspector said that he had to ask for help from Malta Transport, to say exactly what the certificate was. He said they had to contact the Dutch Authorities to see what was what.

11.39am: The inspector was asked by the defence to say what gave him the impression there was something wrong with the ship in the first place.  He was asked whether it was due to the focus on such vessels internationally. Inspector replied that such investigations are dne on other such vessels as well

11.36am: Prosecuting inspector Mario Haber said that the police did not investigate human trafficking.

11.31am: A copy of the captain's certificate was also presented by the police, where it read that the captain can navigate a power driven, or sailing yacht in the coastal waters, on more than 30 nautical miles from land, in a number of areas including the Mediterranean. The aforementioned email from the Dutch Ministry was also presented.

11.28am: Prosecuting inspector Mario Haber also presented copies of the captain's passport to the court , as well as a copy of the Lifeline crew list. The alleged certificate of the ship was also presented, but the Inspector said that it does not seem to have been issued by the ship registry. “Certainly, the yacht is not registered with the Netherlands. It is registered with a Dutch yacht club but it isn't the flag state,” Haber tells the court.

11.26am: Prosecuting inspector Mario Haber from the Immigration division took the stand . He said that on 27 June, the vessel entered Malta. He said Malta knew about it from 21 June, since it was involved in the rescuing of immigrants. He said the vessel spent six days at sea after the rescue of the 234 migrants and that it entered port with 233 migrants as one had previously been airlifted. 

He said that on 27 June Malta met their request and granted them permission. It docked at Boiler Wharf in Senglea. The migrants disembarked and the procedures began. He said that he and Daryl Borg interviewed the captain the day after. 

He said that this vessel was involved in more than one rescue, and the migrants on board were from two rescues. He said that the captain had said that the vessel did not have a preference between docking in Malta or Italy.

The inspector said that the vessel does not have the proper registration, and that the police were assisted by the Malta Maritime Authority, and communications with the Dutch Authorities also took place. The Dutch, he said, confirmed that the registration is not correct. He said the yacht is not registered with the Dutch flag, but with a yacht club.

The inspector said that the Captain came to his office and presented the Maltese police with an email released by the Dutch economy ministry which indicates that they know about this ship, which is registered as a yacht and can conduct rescues. He said they contacted the Dutch Authorities and were told again that it has nothing to do with the registry.

11.18am: The inspectors presented photos of the vessel in question to the court. The Magistrate will, at some point, also go on site to the vessel.

11.17am: The court turns down a request by an Italian lawyer, who is representing the NGO, for the case to be heard in English. The magistrate rejects the request, saying that the accused speaks German so the sitting will be held in Maltese, and translated to German.

11.12am: The defence, prior to the case officially started, said that when the time for bail discussions arrives, they will argue that he should not be kept locally away from his family given that cases take long, to which Magistrate Joe Mifsud said that he does not want the case to drag on too long and said that he does not allow cases to take too long. The defence said that keeping the captain here indefinitely is unfair. They will discuss bail conditions once the appropriate time in today’s sitting arrives.

11.08am: Reisch has been arraigned by court summons, not under arrest. 

 

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