Italy detains migrant rescue ship ‘over port dispute’

Italy detains migrant rescue ship ‘over port dispute’

ROME: Italian authorities have detained a migrant rescue ship for 20 days after it disobeyed an order about where to disembark its passengers, the charity which operates the vessel said on Monday.

The 14-metre ex-lifeboat Aurora picked up 72 people in distress in the central Mediterranean on Friday, and was told by Italian authorities to take them to the Sicilian port of Trapani, said German non-governmental organisation Sea-Watch.

But the crew warned the port was “unreachable” as they were low on fuel and running out of water in high temperatures.

They asked instead to go to the Italian island of Lampedusa, which they said was “four times closer”, but were refused — and even told to go to Tunisia, Sea-Watch said.

In the end, “due to the extreme situation on board” in which one person was found unconscious, the Aurora was allowed to dock at Lampedusa on Saturday afternoon, it said.

“The ship, however, is now detained for 20 days based on the Italian government decree on sea rescue, and Sea-Watch will be fined between 2,500 and 10,000 euros ($2,725 and $10,900),” the charity said in a statement.

The decree was passed by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing government, which took office in October vowing to curb the number of migrants arriving on Italy’s shores.

The decree limits charity ships to one sea rescue at a time and requires them to disembark their passengers at a specific port — often on the other side of Italy.

Located just around 145 kilometres off the coast of Tunisia, tiny Lampedusa is the landing point for many migrants crossing on small boats from North Africa into Europe.

Ministers say they are trying to share the responsibility for dealing with migrants more equitably across Italy’s regions.

Sea-Watch demanded the Aurora be immediately released, saying it had been detained “on fabricated grounds”.

“We simply had no other option than to sail to Lampedusa,” said head of mission, Rebecca Berker, accusing the authorities of having “willingly endangered” the lives on those on board by insisting on an alternative port.

More than 105,000 migrants have landed on Italy’s shores so far this year, the interior ministry says — up from fewer than 51,000 in the same period last year.

Charity rescue ships pick up only a small percentage — and many of those making the journey do not survive.

Almost 2,000 people have died attempting the central Mediterranean crossing in the last seven months, the UN migration agency says.

Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2023


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