But it added that they do “not have the power to demand proof that those ships hold certificates other than those issued by the flag state,” which in the case of the Sea-Watch vessels was Germany.
Sea-Watch described the court decision as a victory that means that port authorities can’t arbitrarily detain ships and prevent them from doing their work.
“The ruling provides clear legal security for NGOs and is a victory for sea rescue. In the future, ships will thus continue to do what they do best: Rescue people instead of being arbitrarily stuck in port,” the organization said in a tweet.
Neither the EU nor any of its 27 nations are actively searching for people in danger in the Mediterranean Sea, where more than 1,000 people have died or are missing so far this year, many of whom tried to reach Europe from North Africa in unseaworthy smugglers' boats.
But ships are bound by international law to respond to any distress call near them.
Most Europe-bound migrants hope to reach family or find work, but many of them are denied asylum because they fled poverty and not persecution or war.
Migration is a key issue in Italy's early parliamentary election on Sept. 25. Right-wing League party leader Matteo Salvini has promised to take a hard line on migration if his party comes to power in a center-right alliance.
Follow all AP stories on global migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration.