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Giannis Skenderoglou / SOS MEDITERRANEE

Piantedosi Decree: the price of disregard for maritime law


On January 2, 2023, a Decree Law known as the “Piantedosi Decree” has been introduced in Italy, undermining the application of the historical and comprehensive maritime and international legal framework of Search and Rescue at sea. Since then, civil rescue ships must navigate to an assigned place of safety without delay and are regularly detained and fined after rescuing lives in distress in the Central Mediterranean. In the meantime, Italian authorities started assigning faraway ports of disembarkation, hindering NGO ships from Patrolling and rescuing boats in distress for extended periods of time. Focus on the dire consequences of the application of the Decree Law on Search and Rescue in the central Mediterranean. 

On November 15, the Italian authorities ordered a 20-day detention of civil rescue ship Ocean Viking and imposed a fine of 3,300 € on the shipowner, penalising an act of humanitarian assistance after the crew onboard rescued 128 people from three boats in distressSince the beginning of the year, civil rescue ships have been detained on 13 occasions. 

At the same time, since the beginning of 2023, SOS MEDITERRANEE and other civil SAR organisations, have been affected by a change of policy in the allocation of ports for the disembarkation of survivors rescued at sea by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center. Throughout the year, after each rescue or series of rescue operations, the Ocean Viking has methodically been assigned ports at a long distance from the area of the Central Mediterranean where civil rescue ships patrol to fill the void left by European States. Concretely, in 2023, instead of being assigned a place of safety that would allow for the rescue operation to be completed as soon as reasonably practicable such as Pozzallo (Sicily) as a reference port, the Ocean Viking has been forced to travel almost two extra months back and forth to disembark survivors rescued from distress at sea in distant ports.

Such navigation to distant ports is detrimental to rescued persons and worsens their physical and mental well-being. Along such routes, they are more easily exposed to adverse weather conditions and longer waiting periods before obtaining full medical and psychological care. To illustrate, in January 2023, Ancona was designated as a place of safety and the survivors and crew onboard Ocean Viking were exposed to a storm with up to 75 kms/h winds and up to 6-meter waves despite the Ocean Viking’s warnings to Italian maritime authorities and request for the designation of a closer place of safety. Our vessel was able to pass such critical weather conditions in a safe manner, however, it took a toll on the physical and mental health of the survivors with over 95% of them feeling seasick despite medical treatments provided by our medical team.   

The designation of Places of Safety so far away from where survivors are rescued also leads to a drastic increase of fuel consumption. According to calculations, Ocean Viking navigated over 21,000 extra kilometers to reach 13 distant ports back and forth this year instead of going to the closest port possible in Sicily. This distance would correspond to the Ocean Viking navigating half the world. These unnecessary extra kilometers cost more than an additional 500,000 euros in fuel consumption.    

SOS MEDITERRANEE strongly condemns the application of Decree Law of January 2, 2023 No. 1 by the Italian authorities. In 2023, detentions and the allocations of distant ports repeatedly emptied the central Mediterranean of vital rescue assets during the deadliest year recorded in that stretch of sea since 2017. This week only, we read numerous reports of shipwrecks and deaths. At least 11 lives have been lost. Instead of establishing an adequate response to the humanitarian needs at its southern border, Europe responds by incapacitating those trying to save lives following indisputable legal obligation under International Law.

Cover picture : Giannis Skenderoglou / SOS MEDITERRANEE