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Open Borders NGOs Furious as Gibraltar Strips ‘Rescue’ Vessel of Licence

vessel
PAU BARRENA/AFP/Getty Images
VIRGINIA HALE

SOS Méditerranée has reacted with anger to news the government of Gibraltar is to strip the Aquarius vessel it uses to ferry migrants to Europe of its registration.

The move comes after Italy demanded the UK take responsibility for 140 migrants picked up off the coast of Libya by the rescue ship, which was sailing under the British Overseas Territory’s flag.

Gibraltar Maritime Administration (GMA) issued the ‘notice of removal’, which will come into effect on August 20, after its Franco-German operators ignored orders issued in June and July to stop its search and rescue activities.

According to Sky News, the Aquarius was chartered by the mass migration-promoting NGOs SOS Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders/MSF), as a ‘survey vessel’ — which was not authorised to carry out search and rescue operations.

SOS Méditerranée hit out at the decision as a “political manoeuvre” aimed at slowing the organisation’s transportation of migrants to Europe, blasting the government in Gibraltar for “pretending to care” about migrants aboard the Aquarius while carrying out a move that could “jeopardise a prompt sheltering of the survivors”.

Insisting there is no “technically founded” difference between survey and rescue vessels, in an angrily-worded statement the NGO claimed authorities were “abusively pretending” ships require clearance to conduct search and rescue operations when “the mere principle of rescue at sea is an overarching principle which falls upon all flags, all ships and on all seas.”

The group said: “While for the last two and half years, the Aquarius has conducted more than 200 search and rescue (SAR) operations, in complete transparency and regularly informing all competent authorities, the Gibraltar Maritime Authority is disguising a political manoeuvre behind an incoherent argument.”

Authorities in Italy and Malta have refused to allow the vessel to dock at its ports along with Tunisia, while the two NGOs operating the Aquarius insist the 141 migrants — the majority of whom are from Somalia and Eritrea — must be brought to Europe rather than dropped off in Libya.

“What is of utmost importance is that the survivors are brought to a place of safety without delay, where their basic needs can be met and where they can be protected from abuse,” said Nick Romaniuk, search and rescue coordinator for SOS Méditerranée.

The number of migrants ferried from Libya has fallen dramatically since Italians elected a populist government in March which has taken a tough approach to open borders-backing organisations accused of running a “taxi service” that encourages people trafficking.

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