Flashquote: Frauke Ossig, MSF Search and Rescue Representative
On July 23, 2021, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) officially requested the release of its ship the Geo Barents from three weeks of detention, after having responded to all requests made by the Italian Maritime Authority, which on July 2, identified 22 deficiencies leading to the administrative detention of the vessel. Since then, all deficiencies have been addressed, although MSF and the ship owner consider the detention not consistently grounded within the relevant regulations and overly punitive towards the Geo Barents, the Owners and the Charterers.
“Today MSF officially requested the Italian authorities to release its fully equipped and certified search and rescue ship the Geo Barents, with no further delay”, declares Frauke Ossig, MSF’s Representative for Search and Rescue.
“While MSF fully supports all legitimate maritime procedures and controls that ensure the safety of navigation at sea, MSF challenges the legitimacy of the Geo Barents’ detention, in particular we dispute the Italian authorities’ statement regarding the ship’s unsuitability to carry out systematic search and rescue activities alleging that the ship had too many people on board. International law does not stipulate specific international classification for humanitarian rescue ships. Such an interpretation of maritime law disregards the fact that rescue operations, as per the duty of shipmasters to provide assistance to people in distress at sea, are considered force majeure situations, as per Article IV of the SOLAS Convention and, thus, the number of people on board should not be taken into account for the purpose of ascertaining the compliance with other provisions of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea”.
“While humanitarian rescue NGOs are filling the deadly void left by states’ disengagement from their responsibility to provide dedicated SAR capacity in the central Mediterranean, it is unacceptable that NGOs are prevented from saving lives”, Frauke Ossig adds. “The death toll is increasing by the day and lives continue to be needlessly lost in the Mediterranean. The administrative detention of the Geo Barents is costing lives and wasting crucial resources which would allow us to keep saving people in distress right now”.
Since the beginning of 2021 up to now, at least 820 people have been confirmed dead or missing attempting to cross the world’s deadliest sea border, including several dozens of deaths in two shipwrecks reported these last days.