Thursday, May 23, 2024

Italy Bans NGO Spotter Planes From Coastal Island Airports

I have not railed lately against Italy's assault on NGOs that rescue migrants floundering in the Mediterranean Sea as they try to make landfall.  But Italy has now expanded its assault by prohibiting NGO search aircraft from taking off or landing at airports along its coast.  Those planes previously used the airports to fly over likely routes in the Mediterranean to search for floundering migrant boats and direct rescue boats to those migrants.  Last week, though, Italy's aviation authority banned charitable search planes from its coastal airports. NGOs condemn the move but state that it will not deter them from continuing their life-saving flights over the sea, and directly rescue boats to migrants in need.  

Countries have the right to secure borders and to restrict entry, though that never stopped Italy and other European countries from colonizing other lands.  In any event, countries do not have the right to impede rescue mandated by the international law of the sea.  I am not an international law expert.  But even a tax exempt geek can reasonably theorize that there are international laws regarding the duty of rescue.  Here is a short excerpt from a real expert:

The duty to rescue

There is a duty pursuant to international law for a ship to attempt the rescue of persons at danger at sea. This duty is based on a long-standing and strongly felt moral obligation among seafarers. This is stated, for example, in the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) Article 98 the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), Regulation V-33. All states recognize this duty.

One implication of this rule is that a state cannot legally prohibit its vessels from rescuing persons at sea: states must accept that their vessels engage in rescue operations. In the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR), coastal states undertake the role to coordinate the SAR in respect of persons in specified areas (Article 2.3). There is a duty to organize such services (UNCLOS Article 98 and SOLAS, Regulation V-7).  There are no provisions in the SAR convention that the particular state in charge of a specific area can direct foreign vessels whether to assist or not. Within the 12 nautical miles of territorial waters, the state has general jurisdiction on other grounds (including the right to direct vessels how to assist or not to assist), but this jurisdiction does not extend to ships in passage assisting other vessels (UNCLOS Articles 17-18).  

The maritime rules of rescue also apply to stand-by rescuers, and not solely to rescue operations initiated by, for example, freighters coincidentally passing by. As such, even the ships of humanitarian organizations deployed to the Mediterranean with no other purpose than to rescue, can invoke the rules of maritime rescue. There is a long tradition of such specialized rescuers, and this is clearly reflected in the international law of remuneration for rescue. These rules stipulate that professional salvors should receive extra remuneration to compensate for their preparedness (see for example International Convention on Salvage Article 13). These provisions would be meaningless if the rules did not apply to vessels designated purely to salvage.

In sum, there is a duty and a right to render assistance to persons in danger at sea. This duty applies regardless of whether the rescue operations are believed to have an undesired pull effect, motivating refugees and migrants to travel.

Italy's policy of impounding NGO boats that rescue more than one group of floundering migrants in the Mediterranean Sea at a time seems a clear violation of international law.  Their efforts to restrict spotter planes is in the same category.  From Reuters:  

Italy said on Tuesday that planes used by charities to track migrant boats in difficulty would no longer be able to fly from airports on the islands of Sicily, Pantelleria and Lampedusa that are close to the shipping routes.  The decision, announced by the Italian Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC), will make it much harder for non-governmental groups like Sea Watch to use its small planes to scour the central Mediterranean for boats in need of rescue.
"(This is) an act of cowardice and cynicism by those who criminalize the NGOs for political propaganda," Sea Watch said in a statement on X, adding that it still planned to take to the skies to help migrants in distress. In a written ordinance, ENAC said the planes were "unwarranted," represented a burden for the official rescue teams and risked compromising the safety of undocumented migrants. Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM), said the Italian decision "may hinder life-saving efforts", and added that his agency was "waiting to understand its actual implementation." 
The NGO spotter planes regularly find boats in distress and direct rescuers to their location. They have also documented aggressive pushbacks by Libyan coast guards, who receive European funding to prevent migrants from crossing the sea.  Sea Watch said the ordinance was aimed at preventing the world from seeing what was happening. "This attack, which tramples international law, will not deter us from continuing to disrupt those who would prefer to keep secret what is happening each day in the Mediterranean," it said.


It's despicable.

darryll k. jones

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