German NGO Protests Vessel’s Detention in Italy After Dispute with Libyans

migrant rescue Mediterranean
The NGO returned to the Mediterranean in August 2022 with a larger vessel (SOS Humanity)

Published Mar 6, 2024 7:12 PM by The Maritime Executive

The German humanitarian NGO SOS Humanity is protesting what it calls “false allegations,” after its rescue vessel the Humanity 1 was involved in an altercation with the Libyan Coast Guard on Saturday in the Mediterranean. After offloading 77 people they rescued, the Italian authorities slapped the vessel with a 20-day detention order.

Italy and the NGOs have been at odds for more than a year now as the government imposed stricter rules on the operation of the private charity vessels. Critics say the government is trying to stop the inflow of people being rescued or drive them to other countries. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s government imposed the new rules, but so far, the detentions were due to reports of conditions on the vessels or charges that the crews disregarded orders from the Italian authorities on when and where to offload the people rescued from the small boats in the Mediterranean.

SOS Humanity however contends the Italian authorities “attempted to justify the arrest of the Humanity 1 on the grounds that the Humanity 1 would have caused a dangerous situation for the people in distress at sea.” The captain of the vessel claims the authorities could not explain to him why his vessel was being detained. He said in a statement, “Our vessel has been detained even though we followed international law at all times. We have been transparent and provided all evidence.”



The incident began on Saturday when the Humanity 1 the group reported was the first on the scene locating a group of migrants adrift in the Mediterranean and following maritime law in conducting the rescue. He says they were distributing life jackets to the more than 100 people in three small boats when the Libyan Coast Guard arrived.

They contend that the Libyans caused panic and tried to force away the Humanity 1. They claim shots were fired by the Libyans and that during the ensuing panic, people fell into the ocean. Furthermore, they are reporting one person was abandoned and likely drowned. They were able to rescue 77 people before they withdrew. They contend the Libyans forcibly seized at least 20 people and took them away.

The group highlights that the civilian reconnaissance aircraft Seabird 2 was overhead and filmed the incident. The NGO Sea-Watch released images and videos to support the accounts provided by Humanity 1.

After withdrawing the vessel’s captain further says he followed the Italian regulations. He radioed in asking for the closest port for their debarkation. They contend that should have been Bari but instead was sent to Crotone. On Monday, after they completed offloading the survivors the Italian authorities issued the detention in Crotone.

The group has been operating in the Mediterranean since 2016 and is funded through private donations. They report they have rescued nearly 35,000 people first operating smaller vessels, the Aquarius until the end of 2018 and later the Ocean Viking from 2019 to the end of 2021. In 2022, they took over the operation of the former Sea-Watch 4 rechristened Humanity 1