THE bishop who chairs the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, of the Lutheran Church in Bavaria, has strongly condemned the Italian authorities for detaining the civilian sea-rescue ship Sea-Watch 4, a joint initiative between the EKD, United4Rescue, Sea-Watch, and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), in the port of Palermo last weekend.
Dr Bedford-Strohm said: “Those who obstruct sea rescue accept the fact that people are drowning. A Europe that is based on Christian values must not accept this. We call on the German presidency of the European Council to use its position to dissuade the Italian authorities from this irresponsible blockade of ships, and to finally exert pressure for a state-organised sea-rescue mission to be deployed in the Mediterranean Sea to ensure that people in distress land safely in Europe. The current policy is costing human lives.
“With the seizure of the Sea-Watch 4, the Italian authorities have now blocked the fifth civilian sea-rescue vessel in five months. One of the accusations is that there are too many life jackets on board. Under the pretext of ship safety, the aim is obviously to prevent the rescue of people from distress at sea.
”Together with more than 600 United4Rescue allies — some of them international allies — we strongly condemn this irresponsible act of arbitrariness and call on the Italian authorities to release the ships.”
On 15 August, the Sea-Watch 4, which was bought by the United4Rescue alliance in February 2020, left the port of Burriana, in Spain, for her maiden mission off the coast of Libya, blessed by Dr Bedford-Strohm. The ship was able to rescue 353 people from distress at sea and bring them to a safe haven.
In a joint statement released on Sunday, the organisations Sea-Watch, United4Rescue, and MSF say that Italian inspectors spent 11 hours on Saturday searching for possible shortcomings, on whose basis they then detained the Sea-Watch 4 in the port.
“The main accusation was that the saving of human lives did not correspond to the registration of the ship,” the statement says. “These inspections are politically motivated and serve the sole purpose of preventing rescue operations.”
MSF said that the misuse of maritime law was simply providing a smokescreen for a political decision to prevent rescue ships’ saving lives in the Mediterranean. The owners United4Rescue said that the vessel, which was sailing under a German flag, “meets all the safety requirements of the German State”.