Médecins Sans Frontières vessel detained in Italy

Image: MSF.
Image: MSF.

Medical charity accuses Italian authorities of detaining charter vessel on political grounds


A rescue ship chartered by the humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been detained by Italian authorities after a coastguard inspection identified numerous safety deficiencies.

The Norwegian-flagged, 2007-built, 1,293 dwt Geo Barents was chartered by the charity in May and is classed by Bureau Veritas. Records show that it holds a class notation for up to 300 survivors.

MSF said the vessel is fully compliant with the standards of national, international, and maritime regulations.

“International law does not stipulate specific international classification for humanitarian rescue ships,” MSF said in a written statement.

“Such a disingenuous 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 uncontrollable situations.

“Therefore, the number of people on board should not be taken into account for the purpose of ascertaining the compliance to other provisions of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea.”

The charity alleges that since 2019, Italian authorities have conducted 16 Port State Controls on rescue vessels, which have led to 13 administrative detentions.

“While port state controls are legitimate maritime procedures, developed to ensure the safety of navigation at sea, these inspections have been instrumentalized by state authorities to target NGO ships in a discriminatory way,” said Duccio Staderini, MSF search and rescue representative.

“We can therefore only conclude that this is politically motivated. Inspections of NGO vessels in Italian ports are long and thorough, aiming at finding irregularities in order to prevent the ship from returning to sea to save lives. We are faced with a crushing reality: while humanitarian NGO vessels are detained, lives continue to be needlessly lost in the Mediterranean.”

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