On Tuesday, a Maltese court overturned the conviction of a Claus Peter Reisch, a German captain of a private ship who was convicted of entering Maltese waters without a permit and for having improper ship registration. The court ruled that Reisch did not have the specific criminal intent required when he entered Maltese waters and did so for the purposes of aiding rescued migrants.
The ship belonged to a group known as Mission Lifeline, a humanitarian group focused on aiding migrants. When the vessel entered Maltese waters in June 2018, it was carrying 234 migrants and was one of many ships being used by aid groups to assist migrants attempting the often dangerous passage across the Mediterranean Sea. The ship docked in Malta, where the refugees were dispersed between several EU countries. However, the ship was immediately impounded, and after losing the judgment in the lower court, Reisch was charged with a €10,000 fine.
The Court of Criminal Appeal ruled that although Reisch did break the law in his actions regarding proper registration and permits, he lacked the specific criminal intent also required. A spokesperson for Mission Lifeline told the Associated Press in a statement that the verdict shows the world that rescuing migrants is “not a criminal thing, it’s a duty.” He went on to add that “we are very relieved and happy. Now we know that we did everything right.”
The ship will be returned to Mission lifeline now that the case has been concluded. However, the group has been unable to satisfactorily resolve several attempted negotiations to register the ship under a new countries flag. As a result, the group plans to use a new ship currently being outfitted in Germany and to resume rescue operations this spring.