Home News What the new decree on rescue at sea foresees – Annalisa Camilli

What the new decree on rescue at sea foresees – Annalisa Camilli

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What the new decree on rescue at sea foresees – Annalisa Camilli

On December 28, the Council of Ministers approved a new decree that regulates the work of humanitarian organizations that carry out rescues at sea, in continuity with the so-called bis safety decree, launched by the Conte government in 2019.

According to the decree, ships must do what they already do in part and is established by the various international standards concerning the law of the sea: promptly notify the authorities of any rescue operations carried out, coordinate with them in requesting a port of unloading, have all the authorizations and the equipment provided for the rescue.

Ships providing relief must “have requested the competent authority, immediately after the event, to assign the port of unloading; the port of unloading identified by the competent authorities is reached without delay for the completion of the rescue operation”. This is already foreseen by the laws of the sea and in fact already happens. The decree requires ships to “promptly initiate initiatives aimed at acquiring intentions to request international protection”, i.e. to start the procedures for requesting asylum on board. However, this is contrary to the law, in fact the international provisions and the guidelines of the United Nations expressly exclude that the masters of the ships are required to receive asylum applications.

The novelty of the law – urgently passed by the government between Christmas and New Year’s – is the attempt to outlaw transhipments (which occur when a smaller ship carries out a rescue and then transfers the shipwrecked to a larger ship to continue operating other rescues) and multiple rescues, i.e. those subsequent to the first. “In the case of multiple rescue operations, the operations following the first must be carried out in compliance with the notification obligations and must not compromise the obligation to reach the port of unloading without delay”, the law continues. This is because “the methods of search and rescue at sea by the ship must not aggravate dangerous situations on board or prevent timely reaching the port of disembarkation”, explains the decree.

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For those deemed not in line with the law, fines of up to 50,000 euros are envisaged (for the captain and the owner) and sanctions which include the confiscation of the ship for two months. Against the administrative detention of the ship “an appeal is allowed, within sixty days of notification of the notification of the dispute, to the prefect who will proceed in the following twenty days”.

“The safety decree voted by the council of ministers drastically reduces the chances of saving lives at sea, limiting the operations of humanitarian ships and multiplying the costs of rescue for all the NGOs at sea”, Emergency states in a statement.

“2022 ends with dramatic figures: almost 1,400 people have lost their lives in the central Mediterranean this year alone. Faced with these terrible numbers, the provisions contained in the decree are unacceptable because – by requiring humanitarian ships to immediately bring the shipwrecked ashore – it effectively reduces the possibilities of making further rescues after first aid”, continues the organization which recently she came to sea with a ship.

Oscar Camps, founder of the NGO Open Arms, commented: “This is yet another decree imagined to stop rescue at sea. Everyone has tried, with different means and methods, but the goal has always been the same: to stop the humanitarian ships. Because? This is the real question that everyone should be asking. We know that people arrive on the Italian coasts mainly with autonomous means, therefore this war unleashed against the European civil society that they rescue at sea does not depend on this. But then from what? The point is probably that the civilian fleet represents a problem that goes far beyond the rescue operations it operates. It is the irrefutable witness of the daily and repeated violations of rights that Europe carries out in agreement with illiberal states, with dictatorships, with regimes, to which it continues to give a lot of public money. The real problem is this”.

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“No government can prevent a rescue ship from evading its obligation to rescue and no ship will refuse to accept those who ask for help in the Mediterranean”, writes the German NGO SeaWatch in a statement. “In recent years we have tried to make up for the lack of a state aid system, but now we will be forced to leave the Mediterranean unguarded. This government strategy aims to hinder NGO search and rescue activities and exponentially increases the risk of death for thousands of people,” added Juan Matias Gil, head of mission for search and rescue operations. of Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

For the jurist and maritime law expert Fulvio Vassallo Paleologo, the law will lead to new disputes between the government and the NGOs: “The political direction of the new law decree is clear: a code of conduct imposed by law, to create the conditions of violations whose assessment, entrusted to the prefects, could lead to the confiscation of the ships, and perhaps also to new criminal complaints”.

But for Vassallo Paleologo an interesting element is that the de facto rule denies the defensive assumption used by the former interior minister Matteo Salvini in the trial that is taking place in Palermo, in which he is accused of kidnapping in the case of the Open ship Arms in August 2019: “The new regulatory provisions – if they are not modified before the signature of the president of the republic during the parliamentary process for the conversion of the decree – belie the basis of Salvini’s defense in the Open Arms trial in Palermo, which plays entirely on the legitimacy of the entry ban imposed by the former interior minister in August 2019. The decree ultimately recognises, as the international conventions of the law of the sea also impose, that transit through territorial waters for disembarking the shipwrecked in a safe port is harmless”, and therefore it is not legitimate to impose entry bans, as Salvini did in 2019.

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