Status: 01/05/2023 3:46 PM

A decree of the Italian government severely restricted the work of civilian rescue ships. Many aid organizations now fear that there will be more deaths in the Mediterranean as a result.

Twenty aid organisations, including Doctors Without Borders and the German association Sea-Watch, fear more deaths in the Mediterranean after the Italian government issued a new decree. The new rules conflict with the obligation to salvage under international maritime law.

The decree issued at the end of December stipulates that civilian marine rescue workers are only allowed to carry out one rescue per operation in the Mediterranean Sea. They must then proceed immediately to the next designated port – without offering assistance to other boats in distress. The ships usually make several rescues per mission.

Violations can result in high fines

In addition, migrants and refugees must say on board whether they want to apply for asylum and, above all, in which EU country they wish to apply for asylum, and then fill out the applications. If the new regulations are violated, Italy threatens civilian ship captains with fines as high as 50,000 euros. The authorities can also confiscate and detain ships.

According to aid organizations, the decree violates international maritime law, human rights and European law.

Powerful course against private marine rescuers

Since taking power in October, the right-wing government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has hardened its stance against private sea rescuers. In November last year, the government tried to stop two ships from bringing rescued people ashore. Recently, authorities have assigned ships to remote ports only to harass them, according to aides.

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Time and time again, refugees and migrants from North African countries like Libya dare the life-threatening journey across the Mediterranean. According to estimates by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 2,000 people died or went missing last year.

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