Sat, Jun 23, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Italy to seize two migrant rescue ships: minister

ENDANGERING LIVES:A minister accused a ship of contravening international law by taking on migrants when the Libyan coast guard was already intervening

AFP, ROME

Italy on Thursday said that it would seize two rescue migrant ships, one of which is stranded in the Mediterranean carrying more than 200 migrants, adding that they were “illegally” flying the Dutch flag.

The ships Lifeline and Seefuchs, of German non-governmental organization (NGO) Mission Lifeline, “will be seized by the Italian government and directed into our ports” to launch an investigation into their legal status, Italian Minister of Infrastructures and Transports Danilo Toninelli said.

The announcement comes after Italy’s new populist government earlier this month refused to take in the Aquarius rescue ship, carrying about 630 migrants, sparking an EU migration row.

Lifeline rescued 226 migrants off the coast of Libya on Thursday morning, the NGO said in a statement.

Italian Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini had earlier said that the ship, which flies under the Dutch flag, should “go to Holland.”

“Foreign NGO boats will never touch Italian soil again,” he said in a Facebook post.

However, Toninelli later said that the Dutch government denied that the ship was registered in their nation.

Responding to a request from the Italian government, the Netherlands said the ship was “unlawfully, illegally flying the Dutch flag,” Toninelli said in a Facebook video.

The Dutch representation to the EU tweeted that the ships Seefuchs and Lifeline did not sail under the Dutch flag.

“These ships belong to a German NGO and do not appear in the Dutch naval registers,” the tweet said.

Toninelli accused Lifeline of contravening international law by taking the migrants aboard despite the fact that the Libyan coast guard was already intervening.

He added that the ship was putting the migrants’ lives in danger, saying the ship had a “capacity to carry 50 people,” but had taken onboard more than 200.

However, unlike Salvini, Toninelli said Italy would take in the migrants.

Italy “will once again save the migrants” and transfer them onto Italian boats, Toninelli said.

“And we will seize the ship,” he said, adding that the Seefuchs would receive the same treatment.

“For us, saving lives, but safely and legally comes first,” he said, branding the rescue ships as “irresponsible.”

Questioned about Lifeline’s fate at a rally in the city of Terni on Thursday evening, Salvini said: “It’s a pirate ship, like Captain Hook’s,” Italian news agency AGI reported. “I don’t want ghost ships in Italian ports. If they come to Italy, we will denounce them to the authorities for facilitating illegal immigration.”

Salvini has repeatedly accused NGOs of being complicit with human smugglers operating in Libya.

In a statement, Lifeline said it had rescued the migrants “in line with all international regulations” and called for a “port of safety to disembark those rescued.”

The NGO said it feared “a similar situation to the Aquarius could be on the horizon.”

Earlier this month, Salvini refused to open Italian ports to the Aquarius, leaving it stranded in the Mediterranean. The ship was eventually taken to the port of Valencia in Spain.

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