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Bundestag study: Release of rescued persons in Libya also punishable for merchant ships

"Captains of German flagged merchant ships are liable to criminal prosecution if they bring migrants to Libya. Not only states, but also private individuals must therefore comply with the ban on refoulement. The Association of German Shipowners must hurriedly make this known among its members," explains Andrej Hunko, European policy spokesman for the Left Party in the Bundestag. 

Merchant ship captains of German-flagged ships can be prosecuted in Germany under § 221 StGB if they bring refugees to countries such as Libya. This is written by the Scientific Services of the Bundestag in the study "Maritime rescue by non-governmental actors" requested by Andrej Hunko. The German Regulation on the Safety of Seafaring (SeeFSichV) provides for compliance with the instructions of a competent Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC). However, the prohibition of refoulement is regarded as a higher-ranking law.

Andrei Hunko continues:

"I assume that the law of other EU states must also be interpreted in this way. In Italy the ruling in the case of the supply ship 'Vos Thalassa' is relevant. In July 2018, shipwrecked migrants who had been taken on board were right to defend themselves against a forced evacuation to Libya. Refugees in the case of the 'El Hiblu' are also claiming the right of self-defence; this case is to be heard in Italian courts.

Moreover, international maritime law and the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea do not at any point stipulate that the instructions of a MRCC must be followed in order to disembark rescued persons. In addition, the Geneva Convention on Refugees and the European Convention on Human Rights provide states with clear human rights guidelines that prohibit disembarkation to Libya. Captains MUST therefore ignore a corresponding order from the Libyan coast guard. 

For decades, the Libyan Search and Rescue (SAR) zone was supervised by the Italian MRCC in Rome. Under pressure from the European Union, Libya proclaimed its own MRCC in 2017, but it has been proven that it does not meet the criteria of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). It is regrettable that not even the IMO wants to examine the Libyan violations. 

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen must therefore make every effort to ensure that operations in the Libyan sea rescue zone are again coordinated from Italy. According to IMO regulations, this can be done without complications once the Libyan government has given its consent. This is all the more urgent as the Libyan coast guard is only able to operate in exceptional cases due to the civil war. The German Foreign Office confirmed this last month."

Download the Bundestag study "Maritime rescue by non-governmental actors": https://www.andrej-hunko.de/start/download/dokumente/1462-bundestag-research-services-maritime-rescue-by-non-governmental-actors

Tags: Libya, Sea Rescue, Mediterranean