Migrant rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3 still blocked in Catania

The Italian Coast Guard said it conducted a 'technical verification' of Sea-Watch 3's compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

The Sea-Watch 3 has been blocked from leaving the port of Catania by the Italian coast guard
The Sea-Watch 3 has been blocked from leaving the port of Catania by the Italian coast guard

After a two-week wait at sea, 47 rescued migrants finally disembarked in the Sicilian port of Catania, but the ship flying the Dutch flag's fate is uncertain.

The Italian Coast Guard has blocked Sea-Watch 3 after 'technical verifications' were conducted.

With regard to the 47 migrants, France, Germany and Portugal, among other countries said that they will be willing to take them in after being stranded at sea for two weeks. It's this development that made Italy welcome the NGO vessel to its port, only to block it from leaving.

Sea-Watch International took to Twitter to argue that they've been in this situation before. "Come up with something new!" it said.

In a press statement, the NGO said that this was a coordinated attack on the part of the Italian government, with far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini often fortright and unambiguous on how he believes rescue vessels operating in the Mediterranean are trafficking human beings with no respect for the law.

"We can only conclude that we were ordered to Catania because it is easier to facilitate the criminalisation of Sea-Watch in this particular city; its notorious prosecutor has a clear political agenda against us. It is obvious to us that Italy and the EU are pursuing an anti-immigration policy at the expense of human rights and human lives," said Johannes Bayer, Chairman of Sea-Watch.

This happened only days after the United Nations named the criminalisation of sea rescue in the Mediterranean as the reason for a record death rate at sea. Just two days ago the UNHCR estimated that 2,275 migrants died in the Mediterranean in 2018. That's the equivalent of one death for every 51 arrivals last year.

By comparison, the death rate was one for every 269 arrivals in 2015, when more than one million migrants attempted the perilous crossing.

"Evidently, Italy and Europe do not want to have witnesses to their deadly policies and they will use all means necessary, and even illegal, to hinder migration," Bayer said, adding that it was complying with all technical and legal regulations to conduct its work.

Meanwhile, over 65 international organisations have sent out a call to their respesentatives in government to stop vilifying the sea-rescue NGOs.

Malta's NGO platform, SKOP, released a statement on behalf of eight civil society organisations saying that an open letter had been sent to the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia.

"The letter asked government to support Search and Rescue operations, to adopt timely and predictable disembarkation arrangements, and to end returns to Libya without exception," SKOP said.

Though Sea-Watch 3 has been blocked, at the time of writing, Matteo Salvini and Italy are yet to release a statement on what will happen to the vessel in question.