7 September 2018

Crew of a Tunisian Fishing Vessel Arrested in Italy While Saving People at Sea

Taken from MeltingPot – Chamseddine Bourassine, President of Zarzis le Pecheur APDE, the fishermen’s association of Zarzis and la Peche Artisanale, was arrested by the Italian authorities on September 1st, along with five other fishermen near Lampedusa.

Chamseddine Bourassine and Slaheddine Mcharek at the headquarters of Zarzis Le Pecheur APDE (Photo: Valentina Zagaria)

After assisting a vessel with a broken engine that was carrying 14 people, the fishermen called the Italian Coast Guard, who assured them that they would take on the case.

Yet after hours of delay, the fishermen decided to make their way towards Lampedusa, where the relevant Italian autorities were in motion. Knowing that they could not transfer the 14 migrants to their own vessel, the Tunisian fishermen – who, working near to Libyan waters, are often the first to rescue vessels in distress – trawled the boat up to around 24 nautical miles from Lampedusa, so that it would be resied by the Italian authorities. But the ‘Guardia di Finanza’, after having rescued the 14 migrants, violently arrested the six fishermen, who were then transferred to the Agrigento prison. They were denied communication with their families for five days.

Zarzis being the Tunisian port nearest to Libya, the fishermen from there are have been on the front line of rescuing for more than a decade. The Zarzis fishermen’s association was founded in 2011 following the Tunisian revolution in order to create a netwrok of support and improve the difficult situation for traditional fishermen. Over the years the association and its president, Chamseddine Bourassine, have become points of reference in south Tunisia and begun to become part of international projects including the NEMO project of CIEHAM-Bari, financed by the Cooperazione Italiana.

Statement from the Fishermen’s association Zarzis le Pecheur

In Summer 2015, the association participated in trainings about rescue at sea and the management of remains (provided by Doctors Without Borders) while in 2018 they were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (“The rights of the Mediterranean Sea – For the Humanitarian Marine Rescue of Migrants”).

Last summer, the association also blocked the arrival of the far-right vessel “C-Star” at the port of Zarzis, organising a peaceful demonstration against racism.

The Zarzis fishermen held a protest on the morning of September 3rd to demand the freedom of their colleagues, and have sent a letter to the Tunisian Ambassador in Italy with 500 signatures of the association’s member, requesting the crew’s liberation. On September 6th, a demonstration will take place in Tunis in front of the Italian Embassy to demand the freedom of Chamseddine Bourassine and the five fishermen.

Valentina Zagaira
Melting Pot

Project “OpenEurope” – Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus

Translation by Richard Braude

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