A humanitarian ship that rescued over 400 migrants at sea in recent weeks has been seized by Italian authorities, in a move that French medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) warned would endanger the lives of migrants in the Mediterranean.
In a press release Sunday, the organization called for the “swift release” of its search and rescue vessel “Geo Barents,” which was detained by authorities on administrative grounds in the port of Augusta, Sicily, on July 2.
According to the Italian Coast Guard, the seizure was the result of a “periodic inspection” required for foreign ships docking in Italian ports, which “highlighted various technical irregularities that could compromise the safety of the crew and of the people on board.”
The ship did not have a sufficient amount of life saving equipment on board, such as rafts and life belts, the Coast Guard statement said. During a 14-hour inspection of the vessel, officials found 22 issues overall – 10 of which were grounds for the ship to be detained, it also said.
MSF has said that it is “ready to make all the necessary adjustments.” However, MSF’s search and rescue representative, Duccio Staderini, also claimed that inspections of NGO vessels in Italian ports are “long and thorough, aiming at finding irregularities in order to prevent the ship from returning to sea to save lives.
“We are faced with a crushing reality: while humanitarian NGO vessels are detained, lives continue to be needlessly lost in the Mediterranean,” he added.
Italy has borne the brunt of migrants landing on European shores, with over 10,400 arrivals in the country in 2021, the UNHCR added.
A UN report in May found the European Union was partly to blame for deaths of migrants crossing the Mediterranean due to unanswered distress calls, obstruction of humanitarian rescue efforts, and so-called “pushbacks” to Libya.
So far this year, at least 500 people are known to have died trying to make the dangerous sea crossing along the central Mediterranean route, the UN Refugee Agency said in May. That’s a steep rise on the same period last year, where there were 150 recorded deaths – an increase of 200%.
Reporting contributed by Livia Borghese and Caitlin Hu.