The Open Arms ship is still being held in the port of Pozzallo (Sicily), after last Thursday rescued 218 emigrants from Libya in an operation that allegedly failed to comply with the “code of conduct” that Italy imposed on the oil companies. . A judge is expected to decide, probably on Thursday, whether to end the vessel’s retention.
Marc Reig, captain of the ‘Open Arms’, explained in a statement that the ship “always acted in accordance with the norms and international codes in force, created to guarantee and safeguard human lives at sea and the rights of shipwrecked rescuers”. “We follow the instructions of the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC) at all times,” he added.
According to Reig, the rescue operations began after receiving an INMARSAT message, a general call to all vessels and a subsequent call by the MRCC Rome (ITMRCC), which assumed the coordination of the event. “Subsequently, we received a second communication informing us that the rescue operation would be transferred to the Libyan coast guard, at which time no Libyan vessel was in sight, and we found a rubber boat in an extremely dangerous situation: it was filling up with water and some people had fallen into the sea, “said the captain of Open Arms.
Threats of death
“We intervened to help the castaways, and after communicating with the ITMRCC, we proceeded to embark them in the Open Arms”, Reig reaffirmed, adding: “With the shipwrecked on board, we had to manage a second rescue operation always in coordination with ITMRCC During the operation, a Libyan patrol boat hit us and intimidated us under threat of death, ordering us to deliver the women and children who were on board the rescue boats.”
Open Arms did not deliver them. “We were -as explained- in international waters and, therefore, to deliver them would have involved a collective return in hot to a State (Libya) not signatory of the Geneva Convention”. Instead, the ‘Arms Arms’ went to Malta, the nearest port, and asked his authorities for instructions, because on board he was carrying a three-month-old girl “in danger”.
After three hours, Rome indicated to the ship that he could go to Pozzallo, in Sicily. There it was retained by order of the Prosecutor’s Office of Catania, which accuses the three crew members of encouraging illegal immigration, crimes that if confirmed by a judge, will result in penalties of from 4 to 12 years of age.
In the meantime, the NGO continues to gather support. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has denounced that the Italian Justice offices respond “to a campaign to discredit the organizations that deal with the rescue at sea.” The Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alfonso Dastis, was confident that the situation of the ship “is going to clarify”, so that the members of the NGO “will be able to continue developing their activity” rescue of people on the high seas.
Source: El Periodico