States must respect their Search and Rescue obligations!

Following the shipwreck off the coast of Calabria last 26 February, the EU and Member States must stop their non-assistance practices at sea!

Following the tragic shipwreck off the south-eastern Italian coast of Calabria, off Steccato di Cutro, on 26 February 2023, causing the death of at least 79 people, including 33 babies and children, and at least 20 missing, another shipwreck took place, this time in the Central Mediterranean Sea, off Libya, on 12 March 2023, despite the repeated distress alerts sent by Alarm Phone.  

Both Alarm Phone and Sea Watch aircraft Seabird 2 had alerted since 11 March the Italian, Maltese, and Libyan authorities of a boat in distress with around 47 people on board, trying to escape Libya. Despite the critical situation and the weather conditions, no one intervened. The boat capsized, only 17 people survived and at least 30 people are missing.  

Both shipwrecks, and many more before, raise serious concerns on the responsibility of EU Member States that could have prevented these deadly incidents. The fact that no one intervenes is an infringement of the right to life, and of maritime law, which obliges any State, any ship, to rescue any person in distress regardless of their legal status and to bring them to a safe port. 

These incidentsfuelled a political debate on the recent Italian government’s crack down on search and rescue NGOs, and on its security-based response to the Cutro’s shipwreck. Indeed, the Italian government presented a new immigration decree which focuses on the criminalisation of smugglers, “not distinguishing between those who materially drive the boats and those who organise the journeys”, with penalties to up to 30 years in prison.  

Instead of toughening penalties, speeding up the expulsions and revoking the “special protection” in Italy, as the new Decree mentions, Italy, together with other EU Member States, must stop their non-assistance practices at sea, increase EU-led Search and Rescue operations and put in place effective legal pathways, as the only solution to further loss of lives.