The NGO-operated migrant rescue vessel Aquarius 2 has obtained a provisional flag registration from the Liberian Registry, filling the compliance gap left when Gibraltar and Panama deregistered her. She was the last vessel of her kind operating off the coast of Libya.
In mid-August, the Gibraltar Maritime Authority moved to revoke the Aquarius‘ registration, citing her persistent involvement in migrant rescue operations. The following month, the Panama Maritime Authority revoked its flag registration for the vessel as well. Medecines Sans Frontieres and SOS Mediterranee, the operators of the Aquarius, blamed “blatant economic and political pressure from the Italian government” for the revocation. Italy’s right-wing governing coalition is opposed to maritime migrant arrivals, and it has prevented vessels of all types and flag states – including its own – from landing rescuees on Italian shores. Panama has denied that the decision was motivated by political considerations.
In a speech in Paris on Tuesday, Aquarius crewmember Ludovic Duguépéroux said that the group is aware of the political controversy stirred up by the rescue operations, which have resulted in the delivery of hundreds of thousands of African migrants to European shores. “Do not think that we are naive, we are fully aware of the difficulties and the issues that all this represents, I understand all this,” said Duguépéroux. “What I do not understand is that we put all these considerations before, simply: humanity. ”
While the Aquarius 2 has secured a provisional flag registry, the terms of the agreement do not yet allow her to resume operations off the coast of Libya. SOS Mediterranee says that it is still searching for a flag state solution that meets its operational needs.
Now that NGO-operated rescue operations off Libya have ceased, cross-Mediterranean migration patterns have shifted westwards to the shorter sea route between Morocco and Spain. More than 50,000 migrants have made this crossing so far this year, more than the total for Italy and Greece combined, and the rate of arrivals has risen in recent months. At least 560 people have died attempting to make the voyage over the course of the year to date.