A migrant rescue ship operated by a German charity has been detained in Sicily by the Italian Coast Guard, which found the vessel in alleged violation of safety rules and environmental regulations.
A Coast Guard statement on Saturday said inspectors identified 23 `irregularities` including some serious enough to warrant the the Sea-Eye 4's detention in Palermo's port until the cited problems are corrected.
Last month, the ship disembarked at another Sicilian port more than 400 passengers who had been rescued from smugglers' unseaworthy boats in the Mediterranean.
The Coast Guard contended that Sea-Eye 4 didn't have enough rescue equipment to safely evacuate more than 27 people in case of an emergency on board.
`In essence, the argument is always the same,' Sea-Eye Chairman Gorden Isler said in a statement. 'German rescue ships would regularly save too many people from drowning and not have the right certification for such a humanitarian purpose.`
He blasted such reasoning as `grotesque.'
`Our captain carried out the duty of sea rescue in an exemplary manner,' Isler said, referring to the recent rescue of 408 people, including 150 children. 'He witnessed cases of distress at sea and carried out a safe rescue. The EU states could learn from it.'
Sea-Eye and similar humanitarian rescue organizations say they take to the sea because European Union nations don't adequately ply the waters off Libya, where human traffickers launch overcrowded boats carrying migrants who hope to find work or family members in Europe.
Sea-Eye 4 was scrutinized on Friday because more than 10 months had passed since the vessel's last inspection and because it had taken on a large number of rescued passengers, the Italian Coast Guard said.
`The inspection turned up various irregularities of technical nature, such as to compromise not only the safety of the crew members, but also of the very persons that have been and could be, in the future, recovered on board, in the course of assistance carried out,' the Coast Guard statement said.
It also cited alleged violations of environmental protection rules.
Isler alleged that inspections of charity-operated ships are essentially being used to prevent further missions by nongovernmental maritime rescue groups.