Borderline Sicilia ONLUS

Sea Watch 3. Adults and Children Illegally Held Hostage to Political Decisions. Official Complaint to the Public Prosecutor of Syracuse.

On 30 January 2019, the Associations Borderline Sicilia (non-profit), the Catania Anti-Racist Network and “Pax Christi”, Punto Pace Catania, deposited an official complaint relating to the events of the Sea Watch 3. The associations requested the judicial authorities to evaluate the possibility of criminal conduct having been conducted by the Italian authorities, with particular reference to the lack indications as to a port of landing, the connected denial of port access and the consequent detention on board of 47 shipwreck survivors, beyond the limits consented by law, held in unstable health and sanitary conditions and with serious psychological and physical distress.

Four days after the associations sent the notice sent to the government, and despite the requests made by the Prosecutor for Minors in Catania, the National Guarantor and all of the agencies of the United Nations, the Sea Watch 3 remains off the coast of Syracuse. News has recently arrived that the landing will probably be allowed by the Italian government following an agreement for the redistribution of the migrants in Germany, France, Portugal, Romania, Malta and Luxembourg. This result confirms yet again that the governments intention to block entrance to Italian ports and the landing of shipwreck victims on national territory has no justification in public order or national security, but is entirely bound up opportunism and political instrumentalisation effects in clear violation of the law and migrants’ human rights.

In the hours following the assigning of a landing point, the Italian authorities arbitrarily denied the Sea Watch 3 access to the nearest port at Augusta, thus contravening the obligations of rescue (imposed by agreed international laws) in relation to a vessel that remains in a dangerous situation considering the unstable health conditions and the psycho-physical suffering of the survivors on board, including many minors (of whom 15 are unaccompanied), as well as victims of torture and inhumane and degrading detention in their original countries as well as in the Libyan detention centres from which they have fled.

The omission of indicating a port of landing and the correlating ban on accessing the nearest ports at Augusta and Syracuse (bans laid down by the Italian maritime authorities without, as the crew of the Sea Watch 3 relate, any expressed motivation), aside from being an omission of official activity, could represent a more serious hypothesis of omission of rescuing a ship in distress, this being understood as “a situation wherein there is a reasonable certainty that a person, a vessel or other craft is threatened by grave and imminent danger and requires immediate assistance” (SAR Convention, Annex, Chapter 1, Para. 1.3.13.)

Furthermore, the situation of limitation to which the survivors on board the Sea Watch are currently subjected seems to be in violation of Art. 13 of the Italian Constitution, which protects the fundamental value of personal liberty, laying out that only in exceptional cases of urgency and necessity (indicated by the law) can the public security authorities adopt restrictive instruments; in any case, these must be subjected to the overview of the judicial authorities within 48 hours, in absence of which they are considered revoked and void of any effect.

The lack of observance of the obligations here described, imposed by state law and international conventions, are even more serious given the total absence of any formal administrative instrument that might evidence the existence of a pressing public interest that is potentially being dealt with through the blocking of the ship to the port and the consequent blocking of the landing of the survivors being transported.

These violations of the law are even more serious and relevant from a criminal point of view once one considers that there are 15 unaccompanied minors on board the Sea Watch 3, whose “greater interest” in psycho-physical protection (an order established by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, agreed to by Italy) cannot be compromised by political opportunism, reasons that are blocking the protection of the fundamental rights of those with special degrees of protection in relation to their extreme vulnerability.


Borderline Sicila
Catanian Anti-Racist Network
Pax Christi Punto Pace, Catania


Project “OpenEurope” – Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus

Translation by Richard Braude