The Italian coast guard detained two German-operated migrant rescue vessels on Friday after breaching new maritime laws introduced by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s administration.
The Sea-Eye 4, a vessel belonging to the Regensburg-based non-governmental organization of the same name, reportedly conducted multiple rescue operations during a single voyage.
After welcoming onboard 17 migrants in the Libyan search and rescue zone on May 30, the ship was instructed by authorities to return to the Italian port of Ortona. However, the ship reportedly ignored the order and responded to a large boat containing 400 people in Maltese waters before arriving back in Italy.
“The large number of persons recovered, which exceeds the number allowed by the said certificate, poses a serious danger to the vessel and the crew,” the Italian coast guard stated.
Meanwhile, the Mare Go, which also flies the German flag, ignored requests by the Italian authorities to disembark rescued migrants in the port of Trapani, instead heading to the overrun Italian island of Lampedusa.
Under Italian law, humanitarian rescue vessels are no longer permitted to undertake multiple rescue operations in a single voyage and are expected to return to port immediately following a rescue mission.
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The captains of both vessels were informed the ships will be detained in port for 20 days due to the transgressions, in addition to both organizations being fined €3,300.
The NGOs were quick to criticize the Italian authorities, calling them “post-fascists.” They vowed to never adhere to the Italian laws introduced by the conservative administration elected in September last year.
“People rescued at sea must be taken to the closest safe place. We have followed that imperative, deriving from international conventions on the matter. We have not nor will we ever obey the post-fascists, especially if they are trying to drown people at sea,” read a statement by the Mare Go on its social media platforms over the weekend.
The Sea-Eye organization wrote, “Our captain carried out the duty of sea rescue in an exemplary manner. He witnessed cases of distress at sea and carried out a safe rescue. The EU states could learn from that.”
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The number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean has skyrocketed so far this year, and the Italian government has introduced strict new measures in an attempt to stem the flow arriving on its southern shores.
In the first four months of the year, the number of illegal migrants attempting to reach Italian shores from North Africa rose by 292 percent compared to the same period in 2022.
As well as the new laws restricting the activities of NGO vessels in the Mediterranean, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni also introduced harsher penalties for people smugglers, who could now serve up to 30 years in prison if they are found to be responsible for the death of any person escorted to the country.
Meloni has continuously called for a greater European response to the full-scale crisis, insisting that Italy should not be solely responsible for protecting the European Union’s external border.