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The Aquarius Incident and the Law of the Sea: Is Italy in Violation of the Relevant Rules?

Published on June 27, 2018        Author: 

On 10 June, Italy refused Aquarius, a rescue vessel operated by the German NGO SOS Méditerranée, access to its ports and the disembarkation of more than 600 rescued migrants on Italian territory. This decision of the Italian authorities has elicited a considerable amount of criticism, both by European governments (Malta, Spain, France) and by the academic world (eg, this statement by a group of Italian lawyers). The post by Melanie Fink and Kristof Gombeer offers a valuable review of the incident and sheds light on various issues raised mainly with respect to maritime law and human rights law. Although Aquarius arrived safely in Valencia a week later, on Sunday 17 June, there are serious concerns that this was just the beginning of similar incidents, particularly in view of the announcement of the Italy’s new Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini that this would be Italy’s new policy for NGO vessels rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean. Indeed, there have been reports of another similar denial of access to ports on the part of Italy, which markedly displays the growing importance of this issue. These incidents are just another link in the chain of the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe and, to no surprise, the EU called an Informal working meeting on migration and asylum issues on 24 June in preparation of the European Summit on 28 June regarding migration issues.

This post addresses the international law of the sea applicable to incidents like Aquarius, specifically questions relating to the closing of ports, the disembarkation question and the ordering or warning of vessels not to enter the territorial sea. Read the rest of this entry…

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