“Research vessel” C-Star (IMO 7392854) was stopped in Turkish-controlled Cyprus on July 26th. The crew of the ship, which has been hired by Defend Europe, which aims to disrupt migrant rescues in the Mediterranean, were suspected of peoplesmuggling after 21 south Asians were found onboard.
Local newspaper Kıbrıs Postası reported on July 26th that the crew of the C-Star had been taken off the vessel at the port of Famagusta. Police in Famagusta said the crew and ship’s Swiss owner had appeared in court on July 27th, accused of preparing and circulating false documents. Human trafficking is not a crime in Turkish-controlled Cyprus, so charges instead were brought on the grounds that the documents produced by the crew, asserting that they were trainee seamen, were forged.
The Sri Lankan “apprentice sailors” told authorities when they disembarked that they had been trainees aboard the ship, but at the airport some of them changed their story, claiming instead that they had paid to be smuggled to Italy. Five remain in Cyprus, while 15 have returned to Sri Lanka. In a statement posted on Twitter on July 26th Defend Europe said there were 20 “apprentice sailors” on board, who had “paid to make miles on this ship in order to validate their diplomas”, which Defend Europe asserted was “a perfectly trite and legal practice”. The group said that the apprentice sailors were supposed to disembark in Egypt, but that this had not proved possible. They therefore disembarked in Cyprus. Defend Europe claimed that the 20 were offered bribes at the airport by NGOs to stay in Europe, apply for asylum, and make false accusations against Defend Europe. The group said that five of the 20 accepted the bribes.
Despite the assertions by the Turkish Cypriot authorities that the owner of C Star were Swiss, Equasis books the 1975-built, Mongolia-flagged, 422 gt C-Star as being owned and managed by Maritime Global Services of Cardiff, UK. Equasis has the vessel as entered with one of the P&I Clubs (inception 26th January), but the club’s own database does not list C Star as an insured vessel.