Updated | Lifeline captain exhibits German humanitarian award in court

Claus-Peter Reisch, captain of the MV Lifeline, had been given an award in recognition of his saving of 240 lives

Lifeline's captain Claus-Peter Reisch showing to journalists outside the law courts an award he was given by the German Socialist Democratic Party, in recognition of his saving of 240 migrants
Lifeline's captain Claus-Peter Reisch showing to journalists outside the law courts an award he was given by the German Socialist Democratic Party, in recognition of his saving of 240 migrants

The captain of the NGO-operated migrant rescue vessel, the MV Lifeline, was recently awarded a humanitarian award in Germany, which he presented in court this morning.

“Hey people, this is your prize!” said the captain as he emerged from court proudly displaying the award he recently received.

The award from the Bavarian Social Democratic Party was given to the accused on 27 July for saving 240 African migrants from the Mediterranean.

The captain’s actions however have landed him in hot water with Maltese authorities, as the Lifeline found itself at the centre of an international dispute over where the migrants would be disembarked. Over the course of the dispute, it was alleged that the vessel was not carrying the proper documentation.

The ship was allowed to dock in Malta, after an agreement was reached among a number of states for them to be distributed. Reisch was later charged over what the police claim is the ship's irregular registration.

The case, which has garnered considerable international media attention, was at the centre of a summer-long spat between Malta and Italy about whose responsibility it is to disembark migrants rescued in the Mediterranean.

The Lifeline’s captain stands accused of using his ship as a rescue vessel when it is registered as a pleasure craft in the Netherlands.

Reisch recently returned to Malta from a visit to his elderly mother in Germany whilst on bail. A second request to go abroad, made today, was also upheld.

Court experts presented a number of technical reports on the vessel.

Captain qualified to navigate Mediterranean

A technical report compiled by engineer Kurt Gutteridge at the request of magistrate Joe Mifsud, notes that Reisch was qualified to navigate the ship in the Mediterranean, while confirming that the vessel was stateless.

According to the report, Reisch has an “International Certificate for operators of pleasure craft in coastal waters not exceeding 30 nautical miles, issued by the Federal Republic of Germany”.

“The holder is duly qualified to navigate any power driven/sailing yacht in the coastal waters of any sea at any distance not exceeding 30 nautical mile from the nearest land, as well as anywhere in Baltic and the North Sea, the English and Bristol Channel, the Irish, the Scottish, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea,” the report states. 

Moreover, having examined the documentation on board, the appointed expert noted that no Certificate of Ship Registry issued by the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the vessel was seen”.

“The absence of such certificate would signify that effectively the vessel does not have a nationality.”

Furthermore, Gutterdige says that further to this point, based on the claim that the vessel is registered in the Netherlands as a pleasure yacht the vessel would be expected to carry four additional certificates, in view of the Netherlands being a signatory of the conventions requiring such certification.

“The above documents were not presented or made available with Mr. Reisch claiming these were not requited in view of the vessel being a pleasure craft,” the report states. “Nevertheless, the above conventions are applicable to all ships and are therefore applicable in this case.”

The report states that further additional certification would have been required were the vessel to be registered under the Dutch flag as a “Search and Rescue Vessel”.

Court allows maintenance works on ship

Defence lawyer Cedric Mifsud asked the court to order the supply of fuel to power the vessel’s airconditioners. The captain and crew still live on the vessel, he reminded the magistrate. He also asked that maintenance works be allowed to be carried out on board. The court upheld the requests.

The case will continue on August 23, and is expected to be concluded by early September.

In comments to the press, Mifsud said the prosecution had prepared a number of questions which it will pose to the relevant Dutch authorities, in relation to the registration of the Lifeline.

Mifsud said that the defence has 24 hours to submit its own questions to the same Dutch authorities, after which the Attorney General will transmit his questions to the them. They are expected to give a reply by the date of the next hearing in August.

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