The international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced on Monday that Italian port authorities have detained a rescue ship the charity has chartered on administrative grounds, delaying the vessel’s return after saving hundreds of migrants and refugees in the central Mediterranean.
Last month, the French medical corporation sent the rescue vessel to perform lifesaving search-and-rescue activities for migrants and refugees that escape from Libya.
According to the UN migration agency, thousands of migrants have been escaping from war-torn Libya by crossing the Mediterranean Sea while riding small and inflatable boats in hopes of reaching Europe.
The French authorities detained Geo Barents – the ship that MSF leased to perform rescue operations – after identifying several deficiencies with the vessel.
“Following a 14-hour inspection in the port of Augusta, Sicily, Italy, on 2 July, our search and rescue ship the Geo Barents has been detained after 22 deficiencies were identified, 10 of which were allegedly grounds for the ship to be detained,” MSF said in a press release.
MSF said that while it is ready to make all necessary adjustments to release the search and rescue ship, the organization claimed that the seizure was politically motivated and urges the Italian authorities to immediately allow the ship to return to sea as soon as possible.
“While port state controls are legitimate maritime procedures, developed to ensure the safety of navigation at sea, these inspections have been instrumentalized by state authorities to target NGO ships in a discriminatory way,” Duccio Staderini, a representative for MSF’s search and rescue operations, said in a statement. “We can therefore only conclude that this is politically motivated.”
MSF also said that it has launched Geo Barents in May “fully equipped and certified to perform search and rescue activities.” It also assured that it would perform the rescue operations “while adhering to the current rules and regulations put in place by the relevant maritime authorities.”
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