The Malta Independent 26 May 2019, Sunday

Updated: Watch - Lifeline captain fined €10,000 over migrant rescue vessel registration

Tuesday, 14 May 2019, 11:05 Last update: about 11 days ago

The captain of a ship used to rescue stranded immigrants at sea has been fined €10,000 over a registration irregularity.

In comments to the media outside the courtroom, Claus Peter Reisch, the German captain of the vessel MV Lifeline has described the decision, in which he was also acquitted of the second charge - of operating a commercial vessel without the necessary licence - as “scandalous”. His lawyers said they were studying the decision with a view to filing an appeal. Reisch told reporters outside the court that now every vessel registered under the Dutch flag would have to check whether or not they were in violation of their registration.

Magistrate Joe Mifsud, presiding the case, stressed that the court always held the protection of life in the highest esteem. He also observed that there were attempts to sway public opinion during the case, commenting that “we ended up with a sitting in court and another outside the court in the form of a press conference held by the defence, which has no weight in the deciding of this case.”

The ship was not correctly registered with its flag state, said the court, as the document purported by the defence to register it as a Dutch pleasure craft was actually a certificate of ownership.

The court commented that it was “shocked at the racism, intolerance and animosity” directed towards migrants on the internet, appealing to the Maltese to once again find their traditional values of hospitality.

The court did not uphold the request for the confiscation of the vessel, but the vessel will not be released until any eventual appeal is decided.

A custodial sentence was never on the cards, said the court in its deliberations on punishment. It noted that the accused has a clean criminal record and had always shown respect to the court whilst on bail.

The just punishment would be a fine, said the magistrate, imposing one of €10,000 whilst recommending that it be distributed amongst four charitable institutions: the Ursuline Sisters, the Salesians, Dar Emmaus in Gozo and Dar Merhba Bik.

Lawyers Cedric Mifsud and Neil Falzon appeared for the captain.

Speaking outside the law courts, Cedric Mifsud said that the court had reached the conclusion that the vessel did not have the proper Dutch registration, and that the defence was seriously considering an appeal because they feel that they had followed all procedures with regards to registration.

“Our biggest surprise in this case was the fact that the Dutch government changed its mind when it was faced with such a situation; the fact that they said that the registration was not proper, should not be taken as the factual truth because we think there were geo-political considerations taken by the Dutch government when they gave their testimony”, Mifsud said.

 “Whilst we’re not happy with the judgement, what we would like to add is that we welcome the magistrate’s comment who said that saving migrants out at sea is not a crime”, Neil Falzon said.

Reisch, holding up the registration document, said that it is clear on the registration form that the vessel is registered Netherlands and its home port is Amsterdam. 

“The Dutch authorities deny this – in my opinion their denial is impossible and it means that 25,000 other boats registered under this license have the same problem as MV Lifeline, so I must tell them to check their registration as it may count for nothing”, Reisch said.

 

Asked by this newsroom whether the judgement meant that the MV Lifeline would be returning to the Mediterranean to continue it work, Reisch said that if they do file an appeal then the ship will remain impounded in Malta until that appeal is decided. He however said that the NGO had acquired a second ship and would be continue with its work in the coming weeks.

 

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