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German Rescue Ship Blocked in Italy Over breach of migration law

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

June 2, 2023

A German charity said on Friday its rescue ship was impounded by Italian authorities for breaching tougher migration rules introduced by the country's right-wing government as part of a crackdown on NGO sea-rescue activities.

The Mare*Go organization said it disobeyed instructions to take 36 migrants it picked up on Thursday to the Sicilian port of Trapani, taking them instead to Lampedusa island, saving itself hours of navigation.

"The rescue ship is blocked for 20 days" in Lampedusa, the NGO in a statement, adding it would also "likely face a fine because we broke the new Italian Decree Law" sponsored by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

Noting that Trapani was 32 hours away from the location where the migrants were picked up, the NGO tweeted: "We clearly communicated to the authorities that #MareGo is not equipped to treat the rescued people on the move for that period of time".

The Italian law, approved by parliament in February, requires charity-run ships to head to port immediately after a rescue, preventing them from carrying out multiple operations at sea.

Italian authorities have also started a practice of instructing ships to head to more distant ports, not just in Sicily but further up the Italian peninsula, in some cases hundreds of kilometers away.

Charities that do not comply with the rules risk fines and the impounding of their vessel. 

In March, a rescue ship funded by British street artist Banksy was seized in Lampedusa after Italy's coast guard said the boat had disobeyed its orders to head to Sicily and instead went to look for more migrants in distress.  

Meloni said in December the clampdown on charity ships was needed to stop them from acting as "ferry boats" for migrants, going "back and forth with human traffickers to shuttle people from one country to the other".

Her government's new rules, however, have failed to curb sea migration inflows. 

Around 50,400 landings have been recorded so far this year, up from around 19,700 in the same period of 2022, according to the interior ministry.

 (Reporting by Federica Urso, editing by Alvise Armellini, Mark Heinrich and Sriraj Kalluvila)


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