“We can only welcome the news that Captain Rackete has been released after judge Alessandra Vella ruled that she has been simply carrying out her duty to protect life and had not committed any act of violence,” comments Livia Spera, Acting General Secretary of the European Transport Workers’ Federation. “She saved 40 lives in the Mediterranean, fulfilling the legal and moral obligation of any seafarer who encounters people in distress at sea.”
The ETF considers that Ms Rackete’s decision to enter Italian waters despite the threat of arrest was the valid act of a ship’s captain who fulfils her obligation to rescue and save lives – a moral and legal duty. We also express our concern that humanitarian organisations have evolved from the “partners” of Search and Rescue (SAR) naval forces and the merchant fleet to being considered undesirables. This shift occurred as responsibility for maritime rescue was transferred to the Libyan coastguard, with significant funding from the EU.
Many legal proceedings – particularly on the grounds of illegal traffic of migrants – have been initiated against sea masters and crew, fishermen or NGOs engaged in periodic rescue operations. After years of legal procedures, all the accused have all been acquitted, which demonstrates that these trials are fundamentally of an abusive nature and dissuasive purpose.
ETF has been very active on the issue of the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean, representing the vital perspective of merchant shipping masters and crew. Sea rescue is a fundamental obligation, and ship masters are bound by international conventions (such as the IMO SOLAS-25 Convention) to render assistance to any individual in distress at sea, regardless of that person’s nationality, status or of the circumstances he/she was found in. Sea rescue is therefore not part of migration policies and must not be affected by them.
“This unfortunate situation shows once again that the European Union and its Member States need to act in a coordinated manner and show mutual solidarity on the issue of migrants at sea. Europe must define a clear direction and political solution, while also working to address the root causes of these unmanaged migration flows,” said Livia Spera, ETF Acting General Secretary.
As an immediate step, we demand that EU Member States dedicate sufficient resources to public services for sea rescue, where staff should be trained and equipped to fulfil their obligations. This is evidently necessary in a time where an increasing number of people need rescue. Beyond that, we consider it an obligation for states to organise search and rescue operations, such as the former Mare Nostrum programme, rather than solely focusing on security measures like Frontex and NATO patrols.
A more comprehensive ETF statement on sea rescue in the context of the migrant crisis can be found here.