Spanish minister asks EU to assume responsibility for migrant rescue ship

José Luis Ábalos: “Spain cannot be the only safe port”

Image of Open Arms migrant rescue NGO at work in the Mediterranean (Proactiva Open Arms)
Image of Open Arms migrant rescue NGO at work in the Mediterranean (Proactiva Open Arms) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

August 6, 2019 02:37 PM

Spain’s acting development minister, José Luis Ábalos, has asked the European Commission to take on greater responsibility when it comes to the fate of the Open Arms migrant rescue ship, which for the past four days has been at sea with 124 migrants aboard as it awaits permission to dock at a safe port.

As of yet, no southern European countries have given the Catalan NGO the go-ahead, prompting Ábalos’ complaints: “Spain cannot be the only safe port.”

The minister also reminded the press that boat is a “private initiative,” for which he expressed annoyance at Spain having to step in while “other [European] countries shirk” responsibility.

According to him, the last time a similar standoff took place with Open Arms, Spain ended up allowing the NGO to sail to a Spanish port, even though EU regulation stipulates that the safe port should be the one that is closest.

The Catalan government has offered the port of Palamós, in the Costa Brava, as a docking option and Valencia has also offered to host the ship, but the decision ultimately rests with the Spanish government.

Open Arms made headlines this year having spent over 100 days in the port of Barcelona. It was eventually granted permission to carry humanitarian aid, but the ban on migrant rescue was never lifted.

The NGO’s founder, Òscar Camps, defied the ban having tweeted that he "rather be in prison than complicit.” Days later, the Spanish government threatened Open Arms with fines of up to €900,000 for continuing their rescue operations.

The Catalan parliament awarded Òscar Camps and Italian migrant rescuer Carola Rackete with the chamber’s highest distinction, the Gold Medal, in July for risking “their own freedom and even their own lives to save the lives of others in the face of the inaction of countries.”