Rescue operations for migrants off the Libyan coast were halted after Italy’s detention of two rescue ships, amid criticism from international organisations.
The German Sea-Eye group, which operates the ‘Alan Kurdi’, announced that Italian authorities have impounded the humanitarian ship, citing “technical and operational irregularities” that endanger the safety of the crew and migrants.
Sea-Eye remains unconvinced of the reasons provided by Italy. “If they were really concerned about the safety of those who were rescued, they would not have left them for 12 days on board of ‘Alan Kurdi’”, Julian Pahlke, the group’s spokesperson, said in a statement on their website. “Detaining our ship is pure harassment to grind civil sea rescue efforts to a halt bit-by-bit,”
On Monday, the Spanish ship ‘Aita Mari’ was also impounded by Italian authorities in the port of Sicily.
No other ships are available for search and rescue operations. The Spanish ‘Mediterraneo’ organization that operates the ‘Aita Mari’ confirmed that the ship did not show issues of breakdowns and did not violate any laws.
‘Alan Kurdi’ rescued about 150 migrants after the ship remained stranded in the sea for 12 days, as Italian authorities agreed to transport the migrants and quarantine them on a ferry.
‘Aita Mari’ rescued 47 people who were taken care of by Italy 6 days into the rescue operation.
Italy and Malta have seen a 400% increase in migrant arrivals since the start of the year as the war in Libya intensifies. Both countries have declared their ports unsafe for disembarkation due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) expressed concern over recent reports on the failure of rescue operations, adding that the central Mediterranean region was the world’s most dangerous migration route.
UNHCR spokesperson Robert Colville confirmed that no humanitarian research and rescue ship is
currently active in the central Mediterranean, after the work of both ships was stopped.
He pointed to reports indicating that administrative measures are used to disrupt the work of humanitarian NGOs. Colville called for the restrictions on the work of these rescuers to be lifted immediately, noting that these measures put lives at risk.
In the first quarter of the year, the number of people leaving the Libyan has increased by 400% compared to the same period in 2019.