Migrant Rescue Ship Forced to Terminate Operations

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…As Armed Men Attack Tugboat off Malaysia, Shoot Master***

Medical humanitarian NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and its partner SOS Mediterranee announced that they will terminate operations of the search and rescue vessel Aquarius.

The decision comes in the wake of allegations that Aquarius was involved into alleged unclassified disposal of onboard waste and claims that the charterer illegally profited from the said activities.

Due to the criminal charges, the Italian court has ordered the ship to be seized and the vessel has spent the past two months in port unable to render assistance to refugees and asylum seekers on one of the world’s deadliest migration routes.

Earlier this year, the ship was stripped of its registration license on two occasions, in what the NGOs described as orchestrated campaign by the Italian government, backed by other European states.

“Not only has Europe failed to provide search and rescue capacity, it has also actively sabotaged others’ attempts to save lives. The end of Aquarius means more deaths at sea, and more needless deaths that will go unwitnessed,”  Nelke Manders, MSF’s general director, said.

“Let’s be clear about what that success means: a lack of lifesaving assistance at sea; children, women and men pushed back to arbitrary detention with virtually no hope of escape; and the creation of a climate that discourages all ships at sea from carrying out their obligations to rescue those in distress,” Karline Kleijer, MSF’s head of emergencies, added.

Since the start of its search and rescue mission in February 2016, the Aquarius has assisted nearly 30,000 people in international waters between Libya, Italy and Malta, according to MSF.

The Aquarius’ last active period of search and rescue ended on October 4, 2018, when it arrived in the port of Marseille following the rescue of 58 people.

In the meantime, a tug master was injured when four armed men attempted to hijack his tugboat off Malaysia.

The incident occurred some 12 nautical miles northeast of Sabah Coast in the afternoon hours of December 5, 2018, according to ICC’s IMB piracy report.

The four perpetrators in a speedboat approached and fired upon the tug towing an unladen barge resulting in the master being shot in the leg.

“The suspects fired shots at the boat twice, with one bullet hitting the skipper, Didy Saviady, on his left thigh. The crew scrambled and took shelter inside the boat, locking the doors while the suspects boarded the boat,” Datuk Omar Mammah, Sabah police chief, was cited by Malay Mail as saying.

“However, one of the crew, on the third floor of the boat, fired about 10 shots from flare guns at the suspects, causing them to panic and flee by diving into the water and getting to their boat before speeding away,” Omar added.

After the alarm was raised and distress message sent, a Royal Malaysian Police boat responded and took the injured master to hospital.

The remaining crew members sustained no injuries.

Local authorities have launched an investigation into the incident.

At the time of the attack, the Magtrans II tugboat was en route to Papua New Guinea with thirteen crew members on board.

World Maritime News