SOS Mediterranee appeals to European election candidates
ROME - In the run up to May's European elections, the European sea rescue organisation SOS MEDITERRANEE has appealed to election candidates to stop the progressive erosion of maritime and international law in the Mediterranean region.
Through a European-wide call to action, all candidates of the future parliament were encouraged to insist on compliance with maritime law in the new legislative period.
"European values are also at stake in the EU elections. We call for a clear mandate for the future Members of the European Parliament (MEPs): To stand up for the compliance of the law at sea and not to let people in distress simply drown in the Mediterranean or be returned to Libya," said Sophie Beau of SOS MEDITERRANEE.
"Be humane, save lives and respect the law," the executive director of the French association quoted the call for action of the appeal, which is spreading throughout several European countries.
European citizens have been asked to take a close look at the upcoming elections at the end of May to see whether the members of their constituency are committed to the compliance of international law and the protection of human lives in the Mediterranean.
The call consists of a series of four different short videos produced by filmmaker Benoit Musereau and illustrated by cartoonist Rodho, who created these illustrations exclusively for the maritime rescue organisation.
The videos show the development of the last five years on the Mediterranean Sea in a direct and creative way. They vividly explain how the law of the sea has been increasingly disregarded in the Mediterranean since 2014, the start of the current MEPs‘ mandate, and which events were and are particularly decisive for this development.
The decline of the rule of law around the Mediterranean is explained to the viewer by some familiar voices: in the German and English videos it is actress Heike Makatsch, in the French video TV host Nagui and in the Italian video actor Massimo Schuster.
In the face of a dramatic shipwreck off Lampedusa in which at least 360 human beings died, Italy launched, as a result, on the 18th October 2013 the Mare Nostrum sea rescue operation.
Despite having saved 150,000 children, women and men, the operation had to be abandoned after just one year due to a lack of EU support.
It was replaced by the European border control operation Triton, which does not primarily aim at saving lives. In the absence of a European sea rescue programme, thousands of human beings have died fleeing in the central Mediterranean.
As a result, civil society founded sea rescue organisations from 2014 to fill the state gap. But their work has been increasingly hindered since 2017.
On 3rd February 2017, the European heads of state and governments adopted the so-called Malta Declaration and thus, the build-up of the Libyan coastguard, which in the summer of 2018 was also made responsible for the Libyan search and rescue zone.
The ship of SOS MEDITERRANEE and Doctors Without Borders, the Aquarius, was, as a result of these new developments, the first civilian ship to be left stranded at sea in front of closed Italian ports in June 2018 with 630 survivors onboard.
"In the legislative period of the EU Parliament, which is now coming to an end, sea rescue on the Mediterranean Sea was more and more suppressed, although it is the heart of the law of the sea," said Frédéric Penard, operational director of SOS MEDITERRANEE.
"If rescue operations can still take place at all, they will be made more difficult by the dysfunctional Libyan coastguard. They also intercept these people on the move and bring them back to the camps they fled from – with the paid contribution of the European citizens," Penard, who witnessed the first standoff experienced by the Aquarius in June 2018, added.
"It is an open breach of international law and lets European values go overboard." According to maritime law, sea rescue is mandatory and survivors must be able to go ashore as soon as possible and to a safe place.