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Sea Watch sues Italy in European rights court

January 29, 2019

The Sea Watch 3 ship has been unable to reach a European port for weeks due to governments refusing to take in the migrants it is carrying. The situation on board has become critical, warned the German NGO.

Sea Watch III carrying migrants off the coast of Italy
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Cavalli

Sea Watch, a German non-governmental organization, lodged an urgent complaint against Italy with the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) on Monday after a ship it runs, the Sea Watch 3, was barred from docking several EU countries.

Sea Watch 3, which rescued 47 migrants north of the Libyan port of Zuwarah, has been unable to make land for over a week.

The Berlin-based NGO has launched interim measures "in the name of the crew and one rescued individual," said spokesman Ruben Neugebauer.

"We can no longer accept that the European states are jointly breaking the law of the sea and we cannot accept that sea rescue is made conditional on EU negotiations," Neugebauer said in a statement sent to German news agency DPA.

Read more: Germany pulls out of Mediterranean migrant mission Sophia

Stuck on the water

Sea Watch 3, a vessel which carries a Dutch flag, entered Italian waters on Friday but has been unable to dock. Italy has blocked several rescue vessels, in part due to EU countries failing to agree on a migrant redistribution solution.

EU rules require the country in which migrants land to take responsibility for dealing with asylum claims. But Italy argues that the Netherlands should be legally responsible for the vessel because it is "flying the flag of that country."

Read more: Europe's migrant rescue boats face uncertain future

Netherlands: Not on our watch

On Monday, the Netherlands rejected a request by Italy to take the 47 migrants, with the Dutch Justice and Security Ministry saying it would "not take part in ad hoc measures for disembarkation."

The Dutch government also said it was not responsible for the boat, claiming the vessel acted "on its own initiative ... It was up to the captain of Sea Watch 3 to find a nearby port to disembark the 47 migrants he had on board."

More than 100,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea last year, according to the United Nations refugee agency, with more than 2,000 losing their lives or going missing. The EU has yet to come up with a sustainable migrant solution since the migration crisis of 2015, with many countries throughout the bloc refusing to accept refugees.

Read more: Europe's apathy toward humanitarian rescue outrages NGOs

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dv/ls (AFP, dpa)