"They order us to deport people to Libya". Mediterranea takes the Italian Government to Court.

Presented to the judges of Trapani the appeal against the illegal administrative detention of the ship MARE JONIO.

An appeal against the Ministries of the Interior, of Infrastructure and Transport, and of the Economy and Finance aimed at obtaining the cancellation of the “administrative detention of the ship” measure, notified to the captain and the shipowner of the MARE JONIO on 18 October last, has been filed with the Court of Trapani.

In the appeal, drafted by the Lawyers Cristina Laura Cecchini, Giulia Crescini and Lucia Gennari, the rescue operation carried out by the MARE JONIO in international waters on the evening of Monday 16 October is reconstructed with extreme precision: the ship had received an e-mail message, sent by Sea Watch Airborne to all the authorities of the Central Mediterranean coastal countries, from the civil observation aircraft Sea Bird 2, which communicated the last known position of a rubber boat in distress. On that position the MARE JONIO immediately set course, communicating its readiness to assist persons in danger to all authorities, without receiving any response. Having spotted the boat in distress, the MARE JONIO contacted the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome (IT MRCC), which is also the ship's flag reference, to ask for instructions. First by phone, then by email, the Italian Authorities instructed the MARE JONIO to refer to the centre "competent for the SAR zone", i.e. the command of the so-called "Libyan coastguard". At sea, meanwhile, the situation deteriorated: it was getting dark, the boat's engine had broken down, the tubes had deflated and the dinghy was taking on water, the people on board, including women and children, were in panic, one person had already fallen into the water. For the crew of the MARE JONIO there was no choice but to rescue the people in danger immediately, before the rubber boat sank and thepeople risked drowning. Thus 69 people were rescued on board the MEDITERRANEAN ship, brought to safety and given initial medical cares. While the MARE JONIO continued to search during the night for a second rubber boatin distress (which was the next morning discovered to have been intercepted by Libyan patrol boats), the Italian Authorities assigned Trapani as a safe port of disembarkation for the rescued shipwrecked people. The ship arrived there on the morning of 18th October and, immediately after the 69 people had been disembarked and welcomed ashore, the Captain and the shipowner of the MARE JONIO were served fine and a 20-day administrative detention measures for the ship, for violation of the 'Piantedosi' Decree Law of January 2023.

The motivations for the measures affecting the MARE JONIO are shown to be totally “illegitimate” in the appeal presented to the judges in Trapani: the Captain and shipowner are accused of 'not having informed' the Libyan coordination centre and, above all, of not having asked Libya for a port of disembarkation.

In essence, the Italian Government wanted us to be complicit in the deportation of the shipwrecked people to Libya, the very country from which the 69 women, men and children were fleeing.

In fact, the appeal quotes the most significant excerpts from reports by United Nations bodies and agencies describing and documenting "the conditions to which migrants are forced in Libyan detention centres, which constitute torture and inhuman and degrading treatment" and the proven complicity of the so-called "coast guard" and other Libyan state authorities with human traffickers and those responsible for abuse and violence against migrants, who are detained and obliged into forced labour and enslavement.

For this reason, the appeal insists that "Libya cannot be considered a safe place to land shipwrecked persons and its authorities cannot therefore be considered legitimate interlocutors when it is necessary to receive instructions regarding the landing of shipwrecked persons."

The captain of the MARE JONIO has instead done his duty in full compliance with Italian and International law,obeying not only sound ethical and moral principles, but also the Hamburg SAR and Geneva Asylum Conventions, refusing instead to submit to instructions that would have been extremely serious violations of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Fundamental Charter of the European Union, as well as our constitutional principles. Our Lawyers also recall the numerous, now definitive, pronouncements of the Italian Justice in this regard: from the cases of the MARE JONIO herself in March and May 2019, to the sentence of the Highest Court for the Captain Carola Rackete in June 2019 to the conviction of the Captain of the ASSO 28 off-shore supply-ship for having brought a group of shipwrecked people back to Tripoli.

Illegitimate, therefore, is the Italian Government's demand that the MARE JONIO hand over to the "Libyan authorities" the 69 people rescued on board, and illegitimate are the sanction and detention that affected the ship. Even more serious is the attempt - evident in the similar measures that hit SW AURORA SAR and, more recently, SEA-EYE 4 - to impose Libya and Tunisia as "safe ports"when it is under everyone's eyes how handing over people rescued at sea to the militias and military of those countries would mean condemning to a tragic fate women, men and children who are seeking protection in Europe.

MEDITERRANEA does not stand for this, and the proceedings against the detention of the MARE JONIO that will open in the Court of Trapani will be an opportunity for us to obtain not only the cancellation of the measures that have affected our ship, but also an unequivocal condemnation of the violations of fundamental rights that take place, with the complicity of the Italian Government, in the Mediterranean.

Trapani, 3rd November 2023.

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