Italy seizes migrant rescue vessel, another to disembark

Migrants disembarking from the German NGO migrant rescue ship Eleonore after it docked in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo near Ragusa, southern Italy, 02 September 2019. [EPA-EFE/FRANCESCO RUTA]

Italian authorities on Monday (2 September) seized the rescue vessel Eleonore, disembarking the around 100 migrants aboard after it entered Italian territorial waters despite a ban.

“Now we are in a safe port,” Eleonore’s captain Claus-Peter Reisch tweeted, before adding “now our ship is confiscated” and inviting contributions for a new one.

The ship, operated by German charity Lifeline, has been at sea for eight days waiting for a safe port to dock after rescuing over 100 migrants in distress while crossing the Mediterranean.

Another rescue vessel, the Mare Jonio, on Monday said it would disembark its 31 rescued migrants.

“We have just been informed that the Italian coastguard will soon disembark ‘for health reasons’ the last 31 people on board,” Mediterranean Saving Lives, which operates the vessel, tweeted.

“Their odyssey is over and a bit of humanity can be seen on the horizon. Welcome to Europe!” the charity tweeted, with the vessel currently off the coast of Italy’s southern island Lampedusa.

Charity vessels are currently banned from entering Italian territorial waters in accordance with the hardliner politics of the outgoing League-Five Star Movement coalition government.

Italy customs officers on Monday seized the Eleonore as part of the draconian legislation.

Captain Reisch said he headed for Italy as “the situation on board is life-threatening” because of heavy rain overnight and stormy seas.

The Mare Jonio rescued 98 people in distress off Libya last week, with 67 vulnerable people disembarked to Italy, including women, children and urgent medical cases, spokesman Luca Faenzi said.

A third vessel, the Alan Kurdi operated by German charity Sea Eye, was on Monday sailing between Malta and Italy after also being banned from Italian waters by outgoing far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini.

Salvini, who is being removed from the government after he tried to bring it down, issued a tough security decree earlier this year which fines rescue vessels a million euros and provides for them to be seized and their captains prosecuted if they enter Italian waters without authorisation.

Prime Minister designate Giuseppe Conte is in talks to form a new government without Salvini.

On Monday, Conte said the he wanted to renegotiate the EU’s so-called Dublin asylum rules, which stipulate that the country of first arrival must process asylum seekers.

“We need to resume and develop the negotiations with the European Union to go beyond the Dublin regulation and finally achieve a European management system on the immigration problem”, he wrote on Facebook.

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