The Malta Independent 21 September 2019, Saturday

German NGO files judicial protest asking Malta to disembark rescued migrants

Friday, 6 September 2019, 13:21 Last update: about 14 days ago

German sea rescue NGO Sea-Eye has filed a judicial protest calling on the Prime Minister and the Commander of the AFM to coordinate the disembarkation of a group of migrants rescued at sea by the M/V Alan Kurdi last week.

The migrants had been spotted on a sinking wooden boat 3 nautical miles away from the Alan Kurdi’s position at 35°09N 011°57E on August 31. The rescue ship’s captain had dispatched two RHIBs to investigate. The boat’s hull was only 10cm above water and none of those on board were wearing life vests. The personnel on the RHIBs decided to transfer the sinking boat’s passengers onto their vessels.

As the incident took place in Malta’s Search and Rescue area, the captain of the Alan Kurdi contacted the Maltese rescue coordination centre “at the earliest opportunity.” The first contact with the Maltese authorities took place around 20 minutes after the rescue crew began circling the sinking boat and it was decided that the rescue operation had to start right away.

At 9:36am, the Maltese authorities had contacted the ship and informed the captain that because the sinking boat had been heading to Lampedusa, the operation was not being considered as a rescue but simply the transfer of 13 individuals from one ship to another. The captain was repeatedly told not to bring the men aboard, but did so anyway as the vessel’s passengers were already partially submerged at that point and there was a risk to life.

The Alan Kurdi was subsequently refused entry into Maltese port, the authorities claiming it had unilaterally ignored its orders. The 13 men rescued were now stuck on the vessel without a safe port of disembarkation.

Sea-Eye’s lawyer Gianluca Cappitta argued that, aside from the fact that the rescue operation had already started when contact was established with the authorities, the ship’s crew was bound by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other conventions to render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost and to rescue persons in distress.

Sea-Eye, said the position taken by the Maltese authorities was incorrect and that it was following the established conventions which define a rescue as “an operation to retrieve persons in distress, provide for their initial medical or other needs and deliver them to a place of safety”.

Sea-Eye said the situation on board the Alan Kurdi was quickly deteriorating as many other those rescue required immediate medical attention. Two of them were already transferred to Malta on Thursday, calling on the Prime Minister and the Commander of the AFM to order the immediate disembarkation of the rest of the migrants, or be held responsible.

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