The Panama Maritime Authority (PMA) has revoked the registration of search and rescue ship Aquarius 2 in a move that means there will be no charity rescue ships off the Libyan coast in the near future unless the vessel can find a new flag to sail under.
Aquarius 2, the one remaining charity rescue vessel still operating in the central Mediterranean area, is currently at sea with 58 survivors on board.
SOS Mediterranee, one of the charities that operate the Aquarius, said in a statement it was reeling from news of the revocation, which it said followed pressure from the Italian government.
“On Saturday ... the Aquarius team was shocked to learn of an official communication from the Panamanian authorities stating that the Italian authorities had urged the PMA to take ‘immediate action’ against the Aquarius,” it said.
Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the Italian government had applied no pressure on Panama.
Salvini has led an openly racist crackdown against immigration since his League party and the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement took office in June.
Crossing the sea is a perilous journey for migrants. According to the International Organization for Migration, over 1,500 migrants have died while attempting to cross the Mediterranean so far in this year alone.
The Libyan coast guard with the support of European Union returned 13,185 refugees and migrants to Libya between January and August 2018. Italy, with the approval of European Union, also started training and equipping the Libyan coast guard to perform rescues i.e., “pulling back” migrant boats.