Captain Faces Murder Charges
For refusal to assist migrants
Maritime rescue NGO Proactiva Open Arms has filed
a formal criminal complaint against the master of a cargo vessel that allegedly failed to assist three migrants in distress off Libya last week, illustrating the dual liabilities of maritime rescue operations for merchant shipping in the central Mediterranean.
For political reasons, Italy has closed its ports to merchant, government and NGO vessels carrying rescued maritime migrants. As masters have a duty to assist those in distress and to deliver rescuees to a “safe” port, several ships have seen their normal commercial operations delayed after a rescue as a result of the new Italian policy. The boxship Alexander Maersk, the AHTS Vos Thalassa and the U.S. Navy transport USNS Trenton all recently experienced delays or diversions after performing a rescue because they could not deliver migrants to Sicily or Lampedusa, the closest European ports to the rescue zone off Libya.
In addition to the commercial liabilities of taking migrants on board, masters may also face liability in the event of an alleged failure to assist, as in the case of the Triades. “We have filed a complaint against the captain of the [merchant bulker] Triades for failing to help and for involuntary manslaughter and we’ll also do it against the captain of the Libyan patrol boat, which is part of the Libyan coast guard, for failure to render aid and for homicide and we will do so against any other person who may have taken part either through action or omission,” said Proactiva Open Arms founder Oscar Camps at a press conference.
Open Arms contends that the Triades‘ crew had seen the migrants’ vessel but had not provided assistance. The NGO asserts that the Libyan Coast Guard arrived at the scene, rescued the majority of those on board, destroyed the boat and left three survivors amid the wreckage. Two perished before Open Arms’ vessel arrived. Camps said Saturday that Proactiva intends to file a separate complaint against the Libyan Coast Guard, but did not announce any action targeting the Italian government, which supports Libya’s maritime security forces.
The complaint against the Trieste was filed with Spanish police. The vessel is Panamanian-flagged, Greek-owned and Greek-operated, and she is presently located in western Libya. Her AIS record shows that she has traded to Spain in the recent past, but does not suggest the next port on her itinerary.