15th Aug 2022

Migrant-rescue ships win greater EU freedoms

Listen to article

Ports in Italy cannot impound NGO migrant-rescue ships on grounds they take on board too many people to be safe, the EU court has ruled.

The law of the sea contains "a fundamental duty to render assistance to persons in danger or distress at sea", the Court of Justice in Luxembourg said on Monday (1 August).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

And so the number of rescued people on board "must not be taken into account when verifying whether the rules on safety at sea have been complied with," it added.

Port authorities do have the right to carry out safety inspections on rescue vessels, but only if local courts first say "there are serious indications of a danger to health, safety, on-board working conditions or the environment".

And local courts, when taking such a decision, can "take account" of the fact "ships classified and certified as cargo ships by the flag state are, in practice, being systematically used for activities relating to the search for and rescue of persons".

If inspections find "deficiencies" port authorities can also adopt "corrective measures", such as detention of ships, so long as those measures are "suitable, necessary, and proportionate", the EU court added.

The case arose after German charity Sea Watch sued the port authorities of Palermo and Empedocle in Italy at a regional court in Sicily last year.

Two of the charity's vessels — Sea Watch 3 and Sea Watch 4 — are registered as cargo ships under German flags.

And Italian harbour masters had insisted on keeping them at port on grounds they had taken more people on board than their cargo certificates allowed.

Many NGO ships operate in the Central Mediterranean near Libya.

Some 25,164 people used this route to try to reach Europe in the first six months of this year — a 23 percent increase on the same period last year, according to Frontex, the EU's border control agency.

More than 30,000 other people so far this year also underwent perilous sea crossings in the West African, Western Mediterranean, and Eastern Mediterranean regions.

Most of those coming are from Algeria, Bangladesh, Congo, Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco, Syria, and Tunisia.

At least 978 migrants died trying to reach Spain alone this year — amounting to five people a day — according to Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras.

Another 600 people died in the first three months of this year trying to reach Europe from Tunisia and Libya, the International Organization for Migration said.

"UNHCR [a UN humanitarian agency] has continuously been warning of the horrific experiences and dangers faced by refugees and migrants who resort to these journeys," UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo said in June.

"Each year, thousands perish or go missing at sea without a trace," she said.

Lampedusa: The invisible migrant crisis at Europe's gate

Last weekend, Italy's Lampedusa island was again making headlines for being overrun with migrants. But, paradoxically, the crisis was more visible from TV news bulletins and social media than from the ground.

Frontex ends Lithuania border surveillance operation

The agency is suspending border surveillance operations in Lithuania. It also wants to reverse a rule which requires it to suspend operations in EU states where violations take place — and instead send in more agents.

Greece defends disputed media and migration track record

UN human rights council says push backs in Greece have become de facto general policy. Reporters without Borders says press freedoms in Greece are among the worst in Europe. Greece's PM refutes both to MEPs in Strasbourg.

Lampedusa: The invisible migrant crisis at Europe's gate

Last weekend, Italy's Lampedusa island was again making headlines for being overrun with migrants. But, paradoxically, the crisis was more visible from TV news bulletins and social media than from the ground.

News in Brief

  1. Zelensky vows to 'target' Russian soldiers at nuclear plant
  2. Putin vows greater cooperation with North Korea and Taliban
  3. Hungarian judge slams Orbán's rule-of-law attacks
  4. Borrell condemns 'despicable' Rushdie attack
  5. Slow wind-farm approvals risk green goals, warns industry
  6. Increase in people crossing Channel to UK in 2022
  7. Swedish government to toughen gang-crime penalties
  8. Germany to help nationals cope with energy price spike

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  3. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  6. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting

Latest News

  1. Germany needs to cut gas use by 20% to stave off winter crisis
  2. Europe's wildfire destruction set to hit new record
  3. How Putin and Erdoğan are making the West irrelevant
  4. Defying Russian bombs, Ukraine football starts 2022 season
  5. Sweden to extradite man wanted by Turkey
  6. EU must beware Beijing's new charm offensive
  7. Forest fire near Bordeaux forces over 10,000 to flee
  8. Estonia and Latvia sever China club ties

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us