Rescue ships cannot be checked without reason: ECJ

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Rescue ships cannot be checked without reason: ECJ

Italian ports may not inspect rescue ships from humanitarian organizations without "serious indications" of danger, the European Union's top court ruled on Monday, reported dpa.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) said in a statement that rescue vessels are subject to checks in EU member state ports, "however, the port State must demonstrate, in a specific and detailed manner, that there are serious indications of a danger to health, safety, on-board working conditions or the environment."

The case centres on German rescue organization Sea-Watch's legal challenge to a decision from the Italian ports of Palermo and Porto Empedocle to inspect two rescue ships in the summer of 2020.

After both vessels, Sea-Watch 3 and Sea-Watch 4, disembarked rescued persons to the ports, the harbour masters' offices ordered their inspection and later detention.

The harbour masters' offices of the ports involved said the vessels were not certified for search and rescue activities and had boarded persons in much greater numbers than authorized to accommodate.

Sea-Watch disputed the order at a court in Sicily, arguing the ports had exceeded their powers when ordering the checks and detentions.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) stressed the duty to rescue lives at sea under international law in its ruling, finding that the number of people on board a vessel is not grounds for a check.

When persons have finished disembarking, a port may inspect a vessel to check the rules on safety at sea have been complied but must provide reasons why.

For detention decisions, the port state may adopt such "measures only in the event of a clear risk to safety, health or the environment," which again "is for that State to demonstrate," the statement said.

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