Published by Sea Eye | 01 / Nov / 2023

The Libyan patrol boat's violent intervention ends in tragedy. But the Italian government blocks the Sea-Eye-4.

We are publishing in turn the Italian translation of three communiqués issued on Friday evening 27 October, Monday morning 30 October and Tuesday afternoon 31 October by the German organisation SEA EYE, which reconstruct the dramatic developments and the conclusion of the rescue operations carried out in recent days by the civilian ship SEA-EYE-4.

This is yet another testimony to the criminal behaviour at sea of the so-called 'Libyan coastguard', whose violent intervention in an attempt to capture people in distress and return them to Libya has once again resulted in deaths and missing persons in the central Mediterranean.

The protagonist is the latest patrol boat, which the Italian government and the European Commission handed over to the Tripoli government in the Adriatic Sea (in the province of Rovigo) on 6 February, among other things diverting it from its original purpose of protecting human life at sea under the insignia of the Italian Coast Guard.

The protagonists in this case are once again the same 'Libyan authorities' that Italy continues to refer to as if they were a legitimate and reliable actor. Instead, they are clearly militias that have nothing to do with the standards and procedures of a real coastguard. Militias to which our governments and European institutions insist on delegating the role of brutal 'border police' in the Mediterranean. Militias well known to UN observers and ICC investigators for their complicity in the running of detention camps in Libya and their involvement in the activities of human traffickers.

The outcome of this affair is paradoxical: after disembarking in the Calabrian port of Vibo Valentia the 48 people rescued and the 4 bodies of those who did not make it, the civilian ship SEA-EYE-4 was sanctioned by the Italian government for violating the Piantedosi decree law, for failing to obey the Libyan patrol boat's order to move away from the endangered ship. In practice, for our authorities, the Sea Eye crew should have let the Libyan militias do their dirty work of violently intercepting and capturing them, with perhaps an even worse outcome.

After the case of our MARE JONIO, this is the second time that the Piantedosi decree is being used to assert the alleged legitimacy of the so-called 'Libyan authorities', in flagrant violation of international law, the fundamental rights of individuals and the obligation to protect human life at sea in the face of such violations.

Friday 27 Oct 2023

Four dead and three in critical condition after violent intervention by the so-called Libyan coastguard during the rescue of the civilian ship SEA-EYE 4.

On Friday evening, a pregnant woman on board the rescue ship SEA-EYE 4 was fighting for her life. The head of the mission had asked the Italian Maritime Rescue Centre several times for an urgent medical evacuation. Each time, however, Italy referred to the Libyan Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre and the Italian telemedicine service.

The Libyan Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre did not respond to the call for help even after several hours. The Italian telemedicine service contacted concluded that a medical evacuation was necessary. However, the Italian emergency coordination centre in Rome continued to deny any responsibility and again referred the matter to Libya.

In addition to the pregnant woman fighting for her life on board, two other people had fallen into the water during the rescue operation and were brought on board the rescue ship by the Sea-Eye crew. The people had almost drowned, which meant that there was already a lot of water in their lungs. The patients were immediately treated with pure oxygen. Among them was a pregnant woman. The heartbeat of the unborn child was no longer detectable, which created a life-threatening situation for mother and child.

"Italy is forcing us to deal with Libya, a failed state, instead of sending aid directly. A helicopter could reach the life-threatening pregnant woman in less than an hour. Instead, Italy presents itself as a state that respects neither the life of a pregnant woman nor that of an unborn child. This is a medical, ethical and humanitarian scandal that should be brought before every court in the world," said Jan Ribbeck, mission director of Sea-Eye e.V.

Around 8pm on Friday, Italy finally instructed SEA-EYE 4 to head to Lampedusa itself to carry out medical evacuations.

"Instead of sending help itself, Italy spent hours manoeuvring over whether to send medical evacuations for people whose lives were in grave danger. Finally, Italy continues to force survivors to make an eight-hour crossing to Lampedusa. We demand that Italy immediately take all measures to protect the life of the pregnant woman on board SEA-EYE 4 and send a helicopter for medical evacuation as soon as possible," said Gorden Isler, President of Sea-Eye.

Italy also instructed SEA-EYE 4 to proceed to the port of Vibo Valentia after the medical evacuation in Lampedusa to disembark the remaining rescued people.

The rescue operation

On Friday morning, the crew of SEA-EYE 4 was alerted to an emergency at sea, which the rescue vessel reached shortly afterwards. The so-called Libyan Coast Guard was already on the scene and the Sea-Eye crew documented the presence of people in the water.

The so-called Libyan Coast Guard radioed the SEA-EYE 4 to move away from the scene or be attacked. As the so-called Libyan Coast Guard tried to get the people out of the water, the dinghy broke away from the vessel. The people fled from the violent militias. During the escape attempt, some people fell into the water and the Sea-Eye crew used rescue equipment and a lifeboat. The crew managed to get everyone on board.

However, three people were unconscious and close to death. The crew also found four bodies in the dinghy. In addition, some people in the dinghy are missing and it is unclear whether they were taken back by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard or drowned during the operation.

Monday 30.10.2023

48 survivors on board the SEA-EYE 4 reach Vibo Valentia. Four bodies have been handed over to the Italian authorities.

On Sunday evening, all 48 survivors, including 32 men, 13 women, one child and two infants, disembarked from the SEA-EYE 4 in Vibo Valentia. The four bodies of those who did not survive the dramatic rescue operation on Friday morning (27 October) have been handed over to the Italian authorities.

During the rescue operation, the refugees had fled in their overcrowded dinghy from the so-called Libyan coastguard, which had harassed them with dangerous manoeuvres from its patrol boat. During the operation, several people fell into the water. Three people were in danger of drowning and their lives were in danger. The Sea-Eye medical team managed to stabilise two of them. The third person was a pregnant woman whose unborn baby's heartbeat could no longer be detected, meaning that the baby's life was in danger, if not in danger of dying. The pregnant woman was handed over to the Italian coastguard off Lampedusa after they refused to provide urgent medical evacuation by helicopter.

Yesterday, a mother identified a 12-year-old girl as her daughter among the four bodies. Her nine-year-old brother is also on board. A young man who was in danger of drowning identified a dead woman as his wife. At least two people are reported missing after the encounter with the so-called Libyan coastguard.

The actions of the so-called Libyan coastguard on Friday showed once again how dangerous these militias are. They are not lifesavers at sea. They are not there to protect life. We keep documenting and publishing their recklessness and incompetence, but nothing changes. The cooperation of EU states with these violent militias must finally be stopped,' says Gorden Isler, President of Sea-Eye.


SEA-EYE 4 stranded in Vibo Valentia

Italy asks Sea-Eye to follow the instructions of the so-called Libyan coastguard

On Monday afternoon, the captain of the SEA-EYE 4 was informed that the rescue ship was again being punished with a 20-day administrative detention and a fine of around €3,000. In particular, the Italian Coast Guard accuses the ship's crew of not following the instructions of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard.

In fact, the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, under threat of force, had asked the SEA-EYE 4 to change course in international waters and to leave the sea area in a northerly direction. The so-called Libyan Coast Guard then harassed a dinghy with about 50 people on board, causing the people to panic and fall into the water.

Sea-Eye sought the legal opinion of Prof. Dr Valentin Schatz, Professor of Public Law and European Law at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg. The detention order and the fine have no basis in international law and violate the rights of the Federal Republic of Germany as the flag state of SEA-EYE 4, guaranteed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). According to UNCLOS, it is the exclusive responsibility of the flag State to prescribe and enforce maritime rescue regulations applicable to its vessels in international waters. The exclusive competence of the flag State in matters of international law is not affected by the International Convention on Search and Rescue at Sea (SAR Convention), to which Italy itself refers in its arrest warrant, but rather confirms it. The SAR Convention does not confer any additional jurisdiction on coastal States to legitimately regulate and sanction the conduct of foreign vessels in international waters. Germany, the flag state of SEA-EYE 4, has issued the Maritime Safety Ordinance (SeeFSichV) to implement and enforce the SAR Convention on German ships. Suspicions of unlawful behaviour can be reported to the Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration. By exercising a jurisdiction which, under international law, belongs exclusively to Germany as the flag state, the Italian authorities are acting in violation of UNCLOS. This should also be clear to the Italian government, as the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg has already found Italy in violation of the same rules in a similar, though perhaps less clear-cut case in 2019 (The M/V 'Norstar' Case (Panama v. Italy), Ruling of 10 April 2019, para. 222)," Schatz said.

Sea-Eye will also appeal against the third detention of the rescue vessel in 2023. In addition, the maritime rescue organisation will ask whether delays in the medical evacuation of a pregnant woman rescued by SEA-EYE 4 can be the subject of a judicial inquiry. For several hours on Friday, the ship's chief of mission requested that the pregnant woman be evacuated because her life was in danger. The Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome then referred to Libya's area of responsibility and refused to coordinate the evacuation. Libya did not respond to SEA-EYE 4's request. The MRCC in Rome finally instructed SEA-EYE 4 to proceed to Lampedusa. 

The voyage lasted another eight hours. If a member of the crew had been personally affected, they would surely not have demanded that he be evacuated to Tripoli or that he stay on the ship for another eight hours. This is a distinction that must be called what it is: racism,' Isler said. Italian journalists reported that the woman lost the child she was carrying. Immediate action by the Italian authorities could have led to a different outcome," Isler continued.

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