German rescue ship defies Italy’s disembarkation rules

The German charity Mare*Go said on Friday it had disobeyed rules on migrant disembarkation introduced by Italy’s new right-wing government by taking 36 migrants it picked up on Thursday to a nearer port than that required by the regulations.

Mare*Go said it had taken the migrants to the island of Lampedusa instead of the Sicilian port of Trapani, citing the danger to the well-being of the migrants posed by extra hours of navigation.

The incident comes as the administration of far-right Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni clamps down on sea-rescue activities by NGOs, with charities that do not comply with new disembarkation rules risking fines and having their vessel impounded.

What did the NGO say?

In a tweet, Mare*Go said that the assigned port of Trapani was 32 hours away and that the ship was incapable of giving the rescued people adequate care during the time needed to traverse that distance.

“We clearly communicated to the authorities that #MareGo is not equipped to treat the rescued people on the move for that period of time and that our crew has been out on the open sea for several days carrying out several rescue operations and therefore its unreasonable to continue this many hours of navigation in regard of the well-being of the rescued people and our crew,” the Twitter statement said.

“That’s why we decided to head for Lampedusa instead,” it added.

The NGO also spoke of “a border regime willing to do anything to let people on the move drown at the sea and stop those in solidarity from intervening.”

What is Italy doing to deter migrant rescuers?

The Italian Parliament passed a law earlier this year under which charity-run ships carrying out rescues of migrants in the Mediterranean must head to port without delay following a rescue. This aims to prevent the vessels from conducting more than one rescue operation at a time.

Italian authorities have also begun ordering rescue vessels to sail to ports that are sometimes hundreds of kilometres (miles) away.

Non-compliance with the rules can lead to fines for the offenders and in some cases to the confiscation of vessels.

Meloni said in December that the clampdown on charity ships was to stop them acting as “ferry boats” for migrants, going “back and forth with human traffickers to shuttle people from one country to the other.”

The new rules appear to have been ineffective in reducing the number of landings of migrants on Italy’s shores. Some 50,400 landings have been recorded so far this year. This compares with 19,700 in the same period of 2022.

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