Rescue ship blocked off Italy in fresh row - GulfToday

Rescue ship blocked off Italy in fresh row


A migrant reacts at a hospital bed after being rescued by Libyan coast guard in Sabratha on Tuesday. Reuters

ROME: An Italian charity ship carrying 49 migrants rescued at sea said on Tuesday Rome had refused to let it dock in the latest stand-off between the government and private aid vessels.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini had on Monday reiterated that Italy’s ports were “closed” to new migrant arrivals, insisting his hardline approach to asylum seekers since last summer has effectively stopped departures from crisis-hit libya.

He said the Italian vessel Mare Jonio had not carried out a rescue operation but instead “aided illegal immigration.”

“They can be cared for, nourished, clothed, whatever you like, but they won’t get permission from me to step foot in Italy.”

As the debate raged over the ship’s fate, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said another dinghy with an unknown number of migrants on board had sunk off Libya, leaving 15 survivors.

A baby’s body was found, an official said, while at least eight migrants are missing at sea.

The Mare Jonio, operated by the Mediterranea collective of aid groups, took shelter from bad weather off the island of Lampedusa early Tuesday, despite being ordered by Italy to maintain a distance from the coast and turn off its engine, according to its mission head and captain.

“We have people on board who are sick, I have to take them to a place of safety and there are two-metre high waves. I’m not turning off the engine,” Captain Pietro Marrone told the authorities, according to the Avvenire daily.

“The weather conditions were impossible. We had no other choice,” mission head Luca Casarini said. “We are sailing under an Italian flag, they cannot forbid us to disembark,” he added, according to AGI news agency.

A 25-year old with suspected pneumonia was evacuated to Lampedusa for medical attention.

On Tuesday, Salvini said the ministry was creating a commission of “experts and police” to ensure his directive -- which lays down rules about rescues at sea -- was enacted.

The Italian Refugee Council said it was “extremely concerned” over the directive, which “assumes that Libyan ports can be considered safe and that docking at Tunisian and Maltese ports is possible.”

“It takes no account of the dramatic reality,” council’s director Mario Morcone said in a statement.

Agence France-Presse