Italy tells rescue ship carrying migrants to stay away

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The Local/AFP - [email protected]
Italy tells rescue ship carrying migrants to stay away
The Sea Watch 3 ship. Photo: Sea Watch International

The Sea-Watch charity ship reported rescuing 65 migrants in distress off Libya on Wednesday, sparking an immediate warning from Rome to stay away from Italian waters.


The Dutch-flagged Sea-Watch 3 had found the migrants, including 11 women, two babies, 13 children and a handicapped person in international waters some 30 nautical miles off the coast of Libya

Many among the group were dehydrated and exhausted, Sea-Watch said in a statement, adding "In the Mediterranean there are fewer witnesses but not fewer departures" by people trying to reach Europe.

In Rome, far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini issued a snap directive banning the Sea Watch vessel from entering Italian territorial waters, saying "our ports are and remain closed".

Despite Salvini's repeated “closed ports” claims, 66 migrants rescued at sea by the Italian navy and a charity ship disembarked at a port in Italy last Friday, while 147 refugees were recently brought to Italy by plane.

Meanwhile, three died and dozens more went missing after another migrant boat capsized off Tunisia

Last January the Sea-Watch 3 ship picked up 47 migrants who then had to spend 12 days at sea before being allowed to disembark at Catania in Sicily after a deal was struck with several European countries to take them in.

READ ALSO: Salvini furious as Italian mayors defy new immigration rules

Salvini then called for the ship to be seized for “aiding clandestine immigration” and the vessel was blocked for three weeks in Catania before being allowed to leave without charges.

Sea-Watch 3 went on to Marseille in France and ended up blocked in the port for three months as it battled attempts in the Netherlands to limit its work.

The vessel finally sailed again on Saturday with the non-profit organisation saying it was now the only civilian rescue ship in the central Mediterranean as other charity vessels remain  caught in administrative and legal red tape.

Italy's populist government has taken a hard line on migration, and Salvini, head of the anti-immigrant League party, last month tried to ban charity vessels from rescuing migrants off Libya.

Italy’s government is now planning to introduce fines for NGO rescue boats of up to €5,500 for each migrant they disembark on to Italian soil.

READ ALSO: Migrant death ship to be shown at Venice art fair


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