British coastguard blocks former RNLI boat from rescuing migrants
A former RNLI rescue ship has reportedly been blocked from rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean by British Coastguard officials.
Aurora spent 25 years as an RNLI Trent class lifeboat, before being sold in 2019 to British charity Search and Rescue Relief, which also operates the Banksy-funded rescue ship Louise-Michel.
Aurora, certified as a lifeboat in England, is now deployed within the central Mediterranean and operated by the non-profit rescue organisation Sea-Watch in partnership with Search and Rescue Relief.
According to a press release from Sea-Watch, the 14-metre Aurora is a fast ship with speeds of 25 knots, and can reach positions more quickly than the larger rescue ships.
⭕ After a 1st mission in the #Mediterranean and the rescue of 85 people, flag state United Kingdom detains our new rescue ship #Aurora under dubious reasons – although the ship previously performed its life-saving service for years on behalf of the British Ministry of Transport. pic.twitter.com/UHCz4ca0B8— Sea-Watch International (@seawatch_intl) June 24, 2022
On 29 May, the vessel rescued 85 migrants from a sinking skiff off the coast of north Africa, during a failed attempt to reach Europe from Libya.
The six-person crew of Aurora took the rescued people to Italy, after receiving permission from Italian authorities.
However, a new investigation published in The i reveals that, two days later, the UK’s MCA (Maritime and Coastguard Agency) sent the charity a notice to prevent Aurora from heading back to sea as it was operating beyond its ‘geographical limitations’ of the UK’s Rescue Boat Code, which Aurora is certified under.
The news comes after the EU agency for Fundamental Rights issued a warning this week (20 June 2022) that humanitarian groups are facing a crackdown by red tape in the Mediterranean. Out of 21 NGO search and rescue boats and planes in the region, only ten are operational amid a suite of legal challenges.
Tracking data for Aurora shows the vessel has been stranded on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, where the migrants disembarked, for over a month.
According to The i, lawyers for British charity Search and Rescue Relief are now launching a legal arbitration with MCA in an attempt to get the Aurora and its crew, which includes a doctor, back on the water.
MCA has said it acted after Italian authorities raised concerns about the vessel’s certification.
“As its main reason for detaining the rescue vessel, the MCA falsely claims that the scope of the vessel’s certification is limited to the U.K,” Sea-Watch says in a statment. “However, the Rescue Boat Code, under which the ship was certified, does not restrict the use of boats abroad.”
More than 18,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, and 840 have died.
“People have drowned while our ship – a lifesaving vessel previously operated for years as a rescue boat on behalf of the UK department of transport – is blocked in port. This politically motivated paralysis enforced upon civil rescue operations contributes to a mounting death toll. More will die as a result of this government’s failure to rescue those seeking refuge,” says Hannah Wallace-Bowman, search & rescue coordinator at Sea-Watch.
“I’m very frustrated and concerned that Aurora is being blocked from continuing to carry out life saving work by the authorities of the country it served for so many years. Aurora SAR was designed and built for a single purpose, to help people in distress. The MCA are choosing to prohibit this, using a geographical restriction that simply does not exist. Aurora had been accepted by the MCA until the point it carried out the first rescue,” says Dickon Mitchell, trustee of Search and Rescue Relief.