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‘It’s devastating for the team’: Save the Children migrant rescue boat stuck in Malta

Save the Children rescue boat Vos Hestia forced to dock in Malta following threats by Libyan navy

Denise Grech
16 August 2017, 6:05pm
Migrants wait to be transferred to the Spanish frigate Canarias after being rescued by “Save the Children” NGO crew from the ship Vos Hestia
Migrants wait to be transferred to the Spanish frigate Canarias after being rescued by “Save the Children” NGO crew from the ship Vos Hestia
One of the search and rescue boats used by humanitarian NGOs to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean is stuck in Malta indefinitely after the Libyan navy took control of rescue efforts beyond its territorial waters.

The decision by Save the Children to dock in Malta was taken after media reports that the Libyan navy was threatening humanitarian vessels in search and rescue (SAR) zones.

It alleged that Libyan authorities increased their patrolling zone from 12 nautical miles to 70 nautical miles from shoreline, moving further into international waters.

Speaking to MaltaToday, Save the Children spokesperson Gemma Parkin said: “It’s devastating for the team on board. We’re set up and ready to go but we know we can’t leave.”

If Save the Children’s vessel Vos Hestia decides to continue on its search and rescue mission, it risks running into the control of Libyan authorities, which will compel the NGO to turn over rescued asylum-seekers back to Libya.

For this reason, Parkin said the team is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

“We always work under our main principle: do no harm. If we stayed in the newly extended area we might have been compelled to hand over asylum seekers or to let them go by on their rubber boats, and we refuse to be complicit in that”.

Save the Children’s senior team, Italian coastguards and the EU are currently liaising with different Libyan stakeholders to allow the vessels to continue patrolling SAR zones.

The NGO made headlines last week as one of the few humanitarian groups that agreed to sign a controversial Code of Conduct that allows police officers on board rescue boats.

The Italian document prohibits rescuers from entering Libyan territorial waters or signalling their location to others at imminent risk of sinking.

“We felt that we were already following the rules mandated by the Code of Conduct when we were working with Rome’s maritime rescue coordination centre (MRCC),” said Parkin. “We signed it with the aim of continuing our humanitarian imperative to save lives.”

Other groups such as Medecins Sans Frontiers and Jugend Rettet have called the move “a real threat to thousands of people”.