The owners of NGO vessel Sea-Watch 3 had been deprived  by the Transport Ministry of their right to use their property freely, a judicial protest filed Tuesday argued.

The migrant rescue ship had been barred from leaving port earlier in the summer and was eventually released in October after it obtained permission to leave port to undergo maintenance works in Spain.

Despite the fact that the Sea-Watch 3 had come to Malta several times before, the ship was stopped only when the MV Lifeline incident unfolded, lawyers Cedric Mifsud and Catherine Mifsud argued. In the MV Lifeline case, its captain had been marched to court after questions arose about its registration.

Sea-Watch 3 had been kept until the end of the summer season, when migrants from Libya cross over to Europe, the lawyers noted.

This was a clear abuse of power, they added, saying the Transport Ministry was working with the government to stop NGOs from rescuing people at sea.

The NGO is now taking the government to task for damage caused to the ship during its stay in Malta. The NGO is also holding it responsible for extra costs incurred.

Because of the Transport Ministry’s behaviour, the Sea-Watch 3 had to pay extra to stay in the harbour, with no legal basis for being held, they said.

Sea-Watch 3 had previously berthed in Malta using it as a base from which to sail towards Libya to monitor migrants in difficulty in international waters, the lawyers added.

The ship had entered Valletta Grand Harbour in June for maintenance work. It asked for a permit to leave at the end of June, at which point it was told ‘verifications’ were required before it could leave.

On October 22, it was let go without any formal or written decision being issued and with no changes to the law, the lawyers noted.

Sea-Watch insisted the authorities should desist from causing damage to the ship during its stay in Malta and held them responsible for the damages that it suffered and could suffer in the future.