Spain stops aid group’s rescue ship from setting sail
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — A Spanish humanitarian group dedicated to saving migrants at sea said Monday that one of its rescue ships was denied permission to set sail from the port of Barcelona.
An order from Spanish authorities to aid group Proactiva Open Arms said the boat had violated maritime regulations on past rescue missions.
The order, which was seen by The Associated Press, said the vessel violated “the obligation to leave those rescued at sea at the nearest port” on the boat’s most recent mission in December, when some 300 migrants saved near Libya were taken to Spain.
The office of Spain’s merchant marine issued a statement saying Proactiva’s ship “has had to cross the Mediterranean for several days to bring its migrants to land, putting in jeopardy the security of the boat, its crew and the people rescued on board.”
The aid group has appealed the decision, arguing that the rescue vessel only came to Spain after both Malta and Italy had turned it away.
Proactiva Open Arms President Oscar Camps told the AP “the boat has all its inspections, licenses and papers in order and was ready to sail” on another mission to waters near Libya when Spanish authorities refused to let the crew depart Barcelona.
“It is just as detrimental for Italy to close its ports to us as for Spain to stop our boat from sailing for an unfounded administrative cause,” Camps said. “Stopping our boat for a long time means more deaths in the Mediterranean.”
Proactiva Open Arms said the ship has rescued 5,619 people in the Mediterranean Sea since July 2017.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez made the plight of migrants one of his banner causes when he took office in June. His government has allowed several boats involved in migrant rescues to dock after they were rejected by Italy and other countries taking a hard line against immigration.
Spain has become the busiest entry point for migrants entering Europe illegally. The European Union’s border agency said about 57,000 unauthorized crossings to Spain were detected last year, double the figure for 2017, while the numbers for Europe overall they reached a five-year low.
Around 2,300 people died trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe last year, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Sanchez has not announced a change in Spain’s immigration policy. His Socialists had a disappointing election result in southern Spain last month, when a party from the extreme right won representation after campaigning against immigration.