Te report describes the background to the chartering of M/V Aquarius and highlights inconsistencies in reasoning given by the flag States which led to consecutive de-flaggings. It also questions why de-flagging took place even after the charterers had acted transparently during the period of their charter, regarding the scope and extent of the humanitarian activities they were performing.

A key point, is that technical challenges to a flag registration should never be at the expense of, nor weighted more than, saving life at sea.

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In addition, the influence by the Italian Government upon the flag States involved, namely Panama and Gibraltar, raises important questions on the extent of politically-driven influence by a European Member State over humanitarian SAR activities.

It also gives emphasis on the Italian government challenge with the well-established rule of law in relation to saving life at sea, non-refoulement, and returning those rescued to places of safety. Regarding those, the OHCHR & UNHCR state that Libya is not one of them.

Finally, the review concludes that:

The drive for effective humanitarian policies and supporting actions in protecting individual rights is one of the core foundations at the heart of the European model, but at the time of writing and in the context of the Central Mediterranean Sea it is being eroded through appeasement, thereby undermining the established rule of law

During December, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and its partner SOS MEDITERRANEE informed that were forced to terminate operations by the search and rescue vessel Aquarius. The vessel had  remained in port, unable to carry out its work.

The rescue ship was blocked at the port of Marseilles in France since September, as it could not find a country to register its trips to the Mediterranean. The vessel was flying the Panama-flag, but the Panama Maritime Authority has revoked the registration. Following this, in November, Italy ordered the seizure of the migrant rescue vessel 'Aquarius'.

The termination of the operation, according to the press release by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), is the result of a sustained campaign that the Italian government is leading and it is backed by other European states.

According to MSF, the vessel was working in full compliance with authorities but the Aquarius was twice stripped of its registration earlier this year and now faces allegations of criminal activity.

Furthermore, MSF points out that this forced end to the Aquarius’ operations happens at a critical time. An estimated 2,133 people have died in the Mediterranean in 2018, with departures from Libya accounting for most deaths.

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