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Overcrowding not a reason to detain migrant rescue ships, says ECJ

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Overcrowding cannot be used as a reason to impound search and rescue ships, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said in a ruling on Monday.The judgment came after two Sea Watch ships were subject to inspection in Italy in the summer of 2020.

The humanitarian organisation's vessels were impounded on the grounds that they were "not certified in respect of search and rescue activities at sea" and had taken more people on board than they "were authorised to accommodate".The ECJ ruling on Monday said that people on board due to a rescue operation cannot be taken into account when port authorities verify if safety rules were complied with."The number of persons on board, even if greater than that which is authorised, cannot, therefore, in itself, constitute a ground for a control," the court press release said.Once migrants have disembarked, the ECJ said, national port authorities could subject a ship to an inspection but had to demonstrate that there were "serious indications of a danger to health, safety, on-board working conditions or the environment".The ECJ added that ships certified as cargo ships are often used for search and rescue activities.

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