Last NGO Rescue Vessel Loses its Flag Registry

SOS Mediterranee's crew on station off Libya, Sunday, Sept. 23 (Maud Veith / SOS Mediterranee)

By The Maritime Executive 09-24-2018 09:50:55

On Saturday, the Panama Maritime Authority announced that it has deregistered the Aquarius 2, the last NGO maritime migrant rescue vessel operating off the Libyan coast. 

Medecines Sans Frontieres and SOS Mediterranee, the operators of the Aquarius 2, blamed "blatant economic and political pressure from the Italian government." Italy's right-wing governing coalition is opposed to maritime migrant arrivals, and it has prevented vessels of all classes - including its own - from landing rescuees on Italian shores. Interior minister Matteo Salvini supports returning maritime migrants to their point of departure, Libya, where (according to the UN's assessment) they may face a high risk of abuse in detention. 

"This announcement condemns hundreds of men, women and children who are desperate to reach safety to a watery grave, and deals a major blow to the life-saving humanitarian mission of the Aquarius, the only remaining non-governmental search and rescue vessel in the Central Mediterranean," said MSF and SOS Mediterranee in a statement. The organizations called on EU member nations to provide the Aquarius 2 with a new flag state so that she can continue operations. 

The Aquarius lost her flag once before, in August, when Gibraltar decided to remove her from its registry. 

An alleged reproduction of the notice from Panamanian authorities appears to suggest that the revocation was political in nature. “Unfortunately, it is necessary that [the Aquarius] be excluded from our registry, because it implies a political problem against the Panamanian government and the Panamanian fleet that arrive to European port," the authority allegedly wrote, as reported by the two NGOs. 

In a social media statement posted Sunday, Salvini denied involvement in Panama's decision. "I do not even know what prefix Panama has," he joked.