2019 update - NGO ships involved in search and rescue in the Mediterranean and criminal investigations

June
2019
In 2018, some 2,299 people are estimated to have died or gone missing at sea while crossing the sea to reach Europe to escape war or persecution or to pursue a better life. This is on average more than six people per day. Before mid-2017, a significant share of migrants in distress at sea have been rescued by civil society vessels deployed with a humanitarian mandate to reduce fatalities and bring rescued migrants to safety. In 2018, however, authorities in some Member States viewed civil society-deployed rescue vessels with hostility. As a reaction, they seized rescue vessels, arrested crew members, and initiated legal procedures against them (more than a dozen altogether). In some cases, rescue vessels were blocked in harbours due to flag issues.

To provide a comprehensive overview of the phenomenon, FRA published a note in October 2018 entitled “Fundamental rights considerations: NGO ships involved in search and rescue in the Mediterranean and criminal investigations”. The note draws attention to the recent trend of initiating criminal and administrative proceedings against non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or other private entities deploying rescue vessels. These actions resulted in most NGOs stopping their operations by the end of 2018. The below map pictures the rescue vessels who have been still operational in June 2019, alongside those who had to stop their activities, also indicating past and ongoing legal proceedings against the vessels and/or their crew members.

Map showing NGO ships involved in SAR operations in the Mediterranean Sea between 2016 and 1 June 2019

Map showing NGO ships involved in SAR operations in the Mediterranean Sea between 2016-1 June 2019

FRA continued to follow closely this issue and updated the two tables accompanying the above-mentioned note to give a snapshot on further developments since August 2018 up until June 2019. The information on this page (updated Table 1) gives a fresh overview of all NGOs and their vessels and reconnaissance aircrafts involved in search and rescue (SAR) operations since 2016 in the Mediterranean – also showing whether they have been subject to legal proceedings. The compilation demonstrates that only a few NGO rescue vessels were operational in June 2019 due to various reasons, including ship seizures or de-flagging ordered by the EU Member State authorities.

In the downloadable file at the bottom of the page, updated Table 2 provides further details on the ongoing or closed investigations and administrative or criminal proceedings against private entities involved in SAR operations as at June 2019, of which FRA is aware (having reviewed publicly available sources). It shows that although more Member States opened such legal cases compared to last year (Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands and Spain), many opened cases ended with an acquittal or were discontinued due to the lack of evidence, while others were still pending at the time of the update.

The applicable EU and international legal and policy framework remains unchanged, hence the note’s related legal analysis is not reproduced but can be consulted via this link. All information is up-to-date until 1 June 2019.

FRA will keep following further developments and reporting on this through its Quarterly Bulletins on migration-related fundamental rights concerns covering 15 selected EU Member States.

Table 1: NGO ships involved in SAR operations in the Mediterranean Sea between 2016 and 1 June 2019
(ordered by length of operational period and last active date)
Vessel Flag
State
NGO NGO
country
of
registration
Operational Comments Legal
proceedings
(Yes/No)
In
May
2017
In
August
2018
On
1 June
2019
‘Mo Chara’ SE Refugee Rescue UK Operational since early 2016. No
‘Moonbird’ (reconnaissance aircraft) CH

Sea-Watch

(with support from the Evangelical Church in Germany & the Swiss Humanitarian Pilots Initiative)

DE Resumed operations in Oct. 2018 after a 3 months blockade by the Maltese government. Yes

‘Alan Kurdi’
(previously ‘Professor Albrecht Penck’)

DE Sea-Eye & PROEM-AID DE - - Operational since Dec. 2018. No
‘Josefa’ DE RESQSHIP DE - - Monitoring and observation in SAR zones. No

‘Mare Liberum’

(used only for human rights monitoring)

DE Mare Liberum DE -

Resumed operations in May 2019.

Detained from April to May 2019 in Hamburg, Germany.

Yes
‘Sea-Watch 3’ NL Sea-Watch DE -

Resumed operations on 1 June 2019 after being seized in Licata, Sicily.

Denied to leave port in Catania from Jan. to Feb. 2019.

Denied to leave the port and detained in Malta from July to Oct. 2018.

Yes
‘Mare Jonio’ IT

Mediterranea

(with support from Sea-Watch and Proactiva Open Arms)

IT - -

Seized in at the port of Licata, Sicily since May 2019.

First operational since Oct. 2018.

Yes
‘Aita Mari’ ES Humanitarian Maritime Rescue Association (SMH) ES - Blocked by the Spanish government from Jan. to April 2019, now may deliver aid supplies but not conduct SAR missions. Yes
‘Open Arms’ ES ProActiva Open Arms ES - Blocked by the Spanish government from Jan. to April 2019, now may deliver aid supplies but not conduct SAR missions. Yes
‘Astral’ SE ProActiva Open Arms ES Under maintenance since April 2019. No
‘Aquarius’

SOS Méditerranée &

Médecins Sans Frontières

DE/FR/IT/CH

FR

Stopped SAR operations in Dec. 2018 after having been de-flagged and seized in Marseilles since Nov. 2018. Yes
‘Lifeline’ NL Mission Lifeline DE - Seized in Malta since July 2018. Yes
‘The Sea-Eye’ - Sea-Eye DE Stopped SAR operations after contestation of its NL flag and seizure in Malta since July 2018. Yes
‘The Seefuchs’ - Sea-Eye DE Stopped SAR operations after having been denied to leave the port and detained in Malta from June to Nov. 2018. It was then donated to PROEM-AID and renamed ‘Life’. Yes
‘Vos Prudence’ (operated by MSF Belgium) - Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) FR Stopped SAR operations in Oct. 2017. Yes
‘Vos Hestia’ - Save the Children US Stopped SAR operations in Oct. 2017. Yes
‘Golfo Azzurro’ - ProActiva Open Arms ES Stopped SAR operations in Sept. 2017. Yes
‘Iuventa’ NL Jugend Rettet DE Seized in Sicily (Italy) due to ongoing criminal investigations since August 2017. Yes
‘Phoenix’ - Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) MT Stopped SAR operations in Aug. 2017. No
‘Minden’ - LifeBoat DE Stopped operations, date not available. Yes
‘Sea Watch 2’ - Sea-Watch DE Stopped SAR operations in July 2017; replaced by ‘Sea Watch 3’. It is now called ‘Lifeline’, operated by the NGO mission lifeline. No
‘Bourbon Argos’ (operated by MSF Belgium) - Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) FR Stopped SAR operations in Nov. 2016. No
‘Sea Watch’ - Sea-Watch DE Stopped operations and was replaced by ‘Sea Watch 2’ in 2016. It is now called ‘Mare Liberum’, operated by the NGO Mare Liberum No

‘Dignity I’
(operated by MSF Spain)

- Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) FR Stopped SAR operations in 2016. No

Source: FRA, 2019

Notes:

-  Information not applicable either because the flag state is no longer relevant or the vessel was deployed after the date indicated in the column

♦ Vessel de-flagged

NGO announcements concerning vessels they will introduce in the near future:

  • While the ship 'Lifeline'remains confiscated in Malta, the captain has announced that the NGO, Mission Lifeline, has procured a replacement ship, which will begin its first mission in June.
  • The NGO PROEM-AID (ES) is preparing to introduce the vessel ‘Life’ (donated by Sea-Eye, previously known as ‘Seefuchs’).
  • Since ending its SAR operations following a de-flagging of its ship, 'Aquarius', by both Gibraltar and Panama, the NGO SOS Méditerranée has announced that it is looking for a new ship.

 

Download Table 2 - Legal proceedings in the EU against private entities involved in SAR operations in the Mediterranean Sea (pdf, 94.97 KB) >>