New minister Matteo Piantedosi, a close ally of anti-immigrant League party leader Matteo Salvini, signed a document on Tuesday banning the Ocean Viking and Humanity 1 rescue ships from entering Italian territory, according to media reports.
The conduct of the two ships, which are currently carrying 326 rescued migrants, is not “in line with the spirit of European and Italian rules on border security and control and the fight against illegal immigration,” the directive stated.
It added that “the prohibition of entry into territorial waters is being evaluated,” according to Skytg24, indicating that the directive is provisional and not immediately binding.
Piantedosi’s move came hours before the alarm was sounded that another two fishing boats stranded off the coast of Sicily were carrying several hundred people in distress.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Italian coastguard said it had rescued 1,000 people from the boats and recovered two bodies.
While the coastguard will be able to dock in Italy, the short-term future of the two humanitarian vessels is uncertain.
The Ocean Viking is a Norwegian ship run by the SOS Méditerranée association, while Humanity 1 flies a German flag and is managed by the NGO SOS Humanity.
#OceanViking evacuated 32 people from a 6 meter boat unfit for high seas, in international waters off Malta. They show high signs of exhaustion, dehydration & severe burns after 3 days left at sea, without any food. 234 survivors are now being taken care of by @SOSMedIntl & @ifrc pic.twitter.com/ytlc2vaF9K
— SOS MEDITERRANEE (@SOSMedIntl) October 26, 2022
The embassies of both countries were reportedly contacted by the interior ministry regarding the possible ban, which Luca Casarini, head of mission of the Italian rescue organisation Mediterranea Saving Humans, called “a violation of international conventions.”
Piantedosi has been described in the Italian press as the ‘right-hand man’ of current deputy PM Salvini, co-drafting Salvini’s infamous anti-migrant ‘security decrees’ during the latter’s tenure as interior minister from 2018-2019.
Salvini is currently charged with kidnapping and abuse of office after he blocked several migrant rescue shops from disembarking in Italy in 2019 under the League’s “closed ports” policy.
In an opening address to parliament on Tuesday, Italy’s new prime minister Giorgia Meloni said she wanted to “stop illegal departures and break up human trafficking,” adding that her government intends to propose an EU naval operation to block departures from North Africa.