Malta: Judgment in case against Captain of MV Lifeline

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

On 14 May 2019, the Court of Magistrates, Malta, ruled in the case against Mr. Claus Peter Reisch, Captain of the MV Lifeline ship.

Magistrate Joseph Mifsud opened the judicial proceedings reaffirming Malta’s principles of protecting life. He lamented the significant media attention drawn by the trial, as well as the “racism, intolerance and animosity toward people who are humans like us” in the commentary surrounding the trial. The Magistrate referenced a speech by the Former President of Malta, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, in which she recognised the colonial histories, violence and global economic disparities that force people to migrate. Her speech emphasized the difficulty of the journey to Europe and encouraged solidarity with migrants. 

In examining the case, the Magistrate first clarified that Mr. Reisch was not facing charges for saving lives at sea. Instead, the defendant was accused of two charges regarding firstly, the registration of the vessel, and secondly, the use of the vessel. The Court stated that, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), 1982, the Flag State of a vessel has jurisdiction over the ship, and international custom dictates that countries must issue a certificate of registry to ship-owners. Under UNCLOS, there also must be a ‘genuine link’ between the vessel and the state.

The Magistrate referred to the registration MV Lifeline, which stated that the vessel was registered as a pleasure craft with the association Koninklijk Nederlands Watersport Verbond(lKNWV) in the Netherlands. The prosecution held that the MV Lifeline ship had never been granted Dutch nationality, never had the right to fly the Dutch flag, and that the Dutch authorities consider the abovementioned registration as only evidence of boat ownership. In contrast, the defendants submitted that the registration indicated the Netherlands as the Flag State with Amsterdam as the home port, and that the boat had a Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) issued by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs.

With reference to Article 4 (1) of the Ports and Shipping Act, Chapter 352, regarding registration, the Magistrate found that the registry provided by Dutch authorities indicated that the Netherlands was not the Flag State of the vessel and MV Lifeline was therefore not acting within Dutch jurisdiction. This was found to be a violation of Article 4 (1). Examining Article 4 (2) (a) of the same Act, which prohibits the commercial use of ships within Maltese waters without the correct license, the Magistrate did not find MV Lifeline to be in violation of this law as it was not registered as a commercial vessel, but rather as a pleasure craft.

Finally, the Magistrate dismissed the request to seize the vessel as he found that the vessel was not the property of Mr. Reisch, but rather Mission Lifeline. The Magistrate ruled that Mr. Reisch was to pay a €10,000-euro fine for violation of the abovementioned Article 4 (1) for incorrect registration. At the end of the hearing Mr. Reisch indicated his intention to stay the effects of the judgment in view of his intention to appeal it. Mr. Reisch is represented by Neil Falzon, ELENA Network Coordinator for Malta and Director of the Aditus Foundation, and Cedric Mifsud, Mifsud and Mifsud Advocates.

EWLU would like to thank Dr. Neil Falzon, Director of the Aditus Foundation and ELENA Coordinator for Malta for his assistance with this case summary. Based on an unofficial translation of the EWLU.


This item was reproduced with the permission of ECRE from the ELENA Weekly Legal Update. The purpose of these updates is to inform asylum lawyers and legal organizations supporting asylum seekers and refugees of recent developments in the field of asylum law. Please note that the information provided is taken from publicly available information on the internet. Every reasonable effort is made to make the content accurate and up to date at the time each item is published but no responsibility for its accuracy and correctness, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed by ECRE.