[WATCH] Malta still preventing Sea-Watch vessel from departing, despite positive inspection

Maltese government is politically preventing the rescue of migrants at sea by arbitrarily detaining rescue ship • MV Lifeline's

ew of the Sea Watch 3 protest outside the Office of the Prime Minister
ew of the Sea Watch 3 protest outside the Office of the Prime Minister

The rescue charity Sea-Watch has warned it will hold the Maltese government responsible for “deliberately” and arbitrarily detaining the ship Sea-Watch 3 for over two months, without legal justification.

The ship has been prevented from departing from Malta ever a dispute between member state over the fate of a group of migrants rescued by the vessel the MV Lifeline was further complicated by the fact that the vessel was only registered as a pleasure craft and lacked some necessary documentation.

Malta’s move, which has been supported by the European Commission and the European Council, has been widely interpreted to be a political act intended to assuage brittle relations between the two countries.

“This is a conscious attempt to hinder the rescue of people in distress in the Central Mediterranean,” the NGO said in a letter to the Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

“We consider [allowing] power dynamics blatantly override the rule of law, [as] a non-tolerable attitude for a constitutional state, and rather shameful.”

For 70 days, Sea-Watch has refrained from publicly disclosing the diplomatic steps undertaken to try to resolve the situation at a political level. But the NGO said it had been shown a lack of consistency from the Maltese government, “including an abrupt change in attitude and positioning in its direct communications with Sea-Watch.”

In fact the Sea-Watch 3 recently had a class upgrade and an inspection by its flag state upon a Maltese request to ascertain the correct use of the ship, where the Dutch authorities concluded that the Sea-Watch 3 fulfills and exceeds safety requirements according to its use.

“Sea-Watch engaged directly with you as Prime Minister, who gave false hope to the organisation with regards to a dialogue and the possibility of reaching a solution.

“Instead, the government has deliberately halted the agreement to let the Sea-Watch 3 leave internal waters reached with the Maltese Ministry of Transport at the end of August. Transport Malta in fact authorized Sea-Watch to leave port on the condition, amongst others, not to navigate into Maltese waters unless authorized or instructed to do so. The decision was reverted a few days later, based on an alleged veto imposed at the highest governmental level.”

Sea-Watch has now asked a team of lawyers to facilitate written communication with the Maltese Transport Authority in an attempt to end the ship’s detention in port.

“We endeavored to propose an acceptable compromise, while proving the correct and regular status of our vessel through the necessary documentation and inspections.”

In its most recent written communication to Sea-Watch, the Transport authority makes explicit reference to the political situation in Malta and in Libya. “Such political arguments do not mirror the alleged registration issue and again, clearly show the scandalous political nature of the ship’s detention,” Sea-Watch said.

“For every preventable death that occurs at sea, your government has direct responsibility, which it shall acknowledge and rectify. It is time Maltese decision-makers at highest levels, including you, are held to account for their deadly decisions.”

Lifeline case delayed by Dutch authorities

Meanwhile, Lifeline Captain Claus Peter Reisch remains in Germany as the court waits for the Dutch authorities to reply to rogatory letters.

The Captain of the migrant rescue vessel was charged earlier this year with vessel licencing irregularities.

As the case was called this morning, Magistrate Joe Mifsud noted that the office of the AG had not yet received replies to rogatory letters it had sent to Holland. As had been agreed in a previous sitting the case, this meant that the sitting would be put off for another date.

The case will continue on 2 October. The accused was permitted to stay in Germany till then.

The captain of the MV Lifeline (right)
The captain of the MV Lifeline (right)

The Lifeline, like the Sea Watch 3, has been detained for 75 days, during which period its crew have claimed that Maltese authorities failed to provide evidence of illicit behavior.

The NGO said on Tuesday that Maltese and European politicians, including Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, were guilty of aiding and abetting 380 cases of manslaughter by blocking civilian rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea.

The activists walked through the streets of Valletta before today’s sitting, “handcuffed, fake blood on their hands and with masks of various politicians who they think are guilty” of migrant deaths. 

Today marked, they said, two and a half months of disgraceful behaviour by Malta and other European states, which has led to the drowning of more than 380 people since the civil rescue fleet has been detained. 

The crew of Mission Lifeline claimed that they saved 235 lives during their last rescue mission in the Mediterranean and their captain, Claus-Peter Reisch, is now being accused of operating without the correct ship registration. “All previous investigations have failed to support this claim,” they said. “Even after five court hearings, the Maltese prosecution could not present any evidence. This shows how much energy the authorities are putting into delaying a legal solution to a human rights problem.”

Mission Lifeline said that they contest this attack as a “shameless political scapegoating” in response to sea rescue NGOs’ highlighting failures in the EU migration priorities and policies. “It is evident that Malta is attempting to make an example of Mission Lifeline, to keep NGOs from rescue missions”, said Richard Brenner from Mission Lifeline.