Aid group’s rescue ship held ‘indefinitely’ in ItalyThu, 13 Jul 2023 18:33:50 GMT

Aid group SOS Mediterranee on Thursday accused Italy of hampering its work after the authorities there ordered its migrant rescue ship Ocean Viking held “for an indefinite period” in port.Officials had cited “a very small number of technical and administrative shortcomings,” said the aid group.Having the shop blocked in the port of Citavecchia, north of Rome, “prevents us from carrying out rescue operations” for migrants in the Mediterranean, the NGO’s co-founder and director Sophie Beau told AFP. The authorities were creating a “very harmful” environment for civil society groups looking to aid migrants, she added.Italy’s government has since last year been led by far-right Prime Minister Georgia Meloni, whose coalition — also including Matteo Salvini of the anti-Migrant League party — has cracked down on help for migrants.On Thursday, five charities that assist migrants said they had complained to the European Commission about a new Italian law forcing rescue shops in the Mediterranean to dock in ports assigned to them — often much farther away and requiring days of extra sailing.The non-governmental organisations — Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Oxfam Italia, SOS Humanity, Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration and EMERGENCY — argue the legislation breaks EU and international laws regarding sea rescues.Italy passed a law in February limiting charity-run ships carrying out more than one sea rescue at a time and forcing them to dock at an assigned port.- ‘Enormous need’ -After disembarking 57 people rescued off the Libyan coast on July 7, Ocean Viking was subject to a seven-hour inspection by port authorities on July 11, said the Marseille-based SOS Mediterranee.Inspectors mentioned the need for “deeper investigation involving different players in the certification process and the shipbuilder” which will take time, the group added.The Italian coastguard did not immediately respond to AFP’s questions about the inspection. But Beau said that the problem was related to the Ocean Viking’s 14 life rafts.”The inspectors asked us whether there were 14 qualified people to deploy the rafts in case the ship had to be abandoned,” she explained.”We don’t understand why this point had never been raised at the inspections carried out until now,” she said, citing seven over the past four years alone.”We have faced really extremely frequent inspections, extremely zealous, redundant and repetitive.”While the Ocean Viking is stuck in port, “there is an enormous need for rescue provision, a shocking lack of ships in the zone” where migrants cross the central Mediterranean, she said.Ocean Viking points to rising numbers of deaths among migrants attempting the crossing to EU territory since the start of 2023.- ‘Reliable strategy’ -EU lawmakers on Thursday called for a “reliable and permanent search and rescue strategy” for migrants in the Mediterranean, after a boat capsized off the coast of Greece in June, with as many as 600 believed to have drowned.In a non-binding resolution, the lawmakers urged Brussels to provide support to member states to strengthen their capacity to carry out sea rescues, citing figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which says more than 27,600 people have disappeared in the Mediterranean since 2014.”For 2023, the figure has already reached 1,875 people dead or missing”, the resolution said.The lawmakers called on Brussels to verify whether measures taken by some states to prevent the entry of rescue ships into their territorial waters are “in accordance” with international law.