Today, German authorities ordered the detention of the ships "Mare Liberum" and "Sebastian K" of the non-profit association Mare Liberum e.V. Mare Liberum monitors the human rights situation for refugees at the sea border between Turkey and Greece. Despite the recent change of law in the regulation on ship safety, the activists had announced last week that their ships would leave port to the Mediterranean Sea this Thursday. The detention by the authorities now prevents this departure.
"We are furious and won’t accept the blockade of our mission for solidarity and human rights. Now that our ships are officially detained, we will immediately urge for an accelerated response to repeal the detention. The German Federal Minister of Transport, Andreas Scheuer, deliberately prevents humanitarian operations with the change of law in the regulation on ship safety. It violates higher-ranking German law and will not last", says Hanno Bruchmann, board member of Mare Liberum.
The detention order received from the competent authority, the BG Verkehr, builds upon the mentioned change of law in the regulation on ship safety by the Federal Ministry of Transport. According to this amendment, all ships used for humanitarian or similar purposes are confronted with requirements with regard to construction, equipment and crew that otherwise only commercial shipping has to meet. Depending on the type of boat, these requirements can only be met with irresponsibly high costs in the six-digit-price range, or can objectively not be implemented at all. The new requirements are simply not feasible for standard sailing yachts, such as the "Sebastian K", which Mare Liberum only acquired at the beginning of the year to enlarge their mission in the Aegean Sea. "High costs are to be expected for our ships and the legal dispute. We are dependent on donations to cover these costs", explains Bruchmann.
As early as March 2019, the Federal Ministry of Transport instructed the BG Verkehr to require ship safety certificates for "vessels used in the context of sea rescue in the Mediterranean Sea". Until then, these certificates were only necessary for commercial vessels. In April 2019, Mare Liberum received a detention order for their ship "Mare Liberum" as it didn’t have the required ship safety certificate. Mare Liberum then successfully sued in two instances. In consequence, the Federal Ministry of Transport changed the regulation on ship safety in order to still block Mare Liberum’s work for the rights of refugees. Mare Liberum as well as other associations affected by this policy were informed about the change of law in April this year.
The association Mare Liberum e.V. is active in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea since 2018. There, the human rights activists are monitoring the situation for refugees who are attempting to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. In the process, the non-profit association has repeatedly exposed violence and violations of law by the Greek and Turkish Coast Guards. Frontex, the European border agency, and ships under NATO command are regularly involved in these rights violations as well. Since March this year, the association has been increasingly observing illegal pushbacks by the Greek Coast Guard.