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Italy seizes Sea-Watch 3 rescue vessel

May 20, 2019

Italy's far-right interior minister has condemned the seizure of the ship, saying migrants on board should not have set foot in Italy. However, the condition of the refugees had swayed the authorities' opinion.

Sea-Watch 3 rescue vessel at sea
Image: picture-alliance/ROPI/SeaWatch

Italian prosecutors on Sunday impounded rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3 for breaching immigration rules despite government attempts to block the ship from reaching an Italian port.

The ship rescued 65 migrants off the coast of Libya last week. It had originally signaled its intention to disembark them at an Italian port, but was blocked by Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.

Salvini, who leads the far-right League Party, had closed Italian ports to the ship and banned it from entering Italian territorial waters. But days later, the Italian coastguard agreed to take custody of families with children and transferred them to Lampedusa.

The remaining 47 migrants disembarked at Lampedusa on Sunday evening as part of the order to seize the ship.

"The Italian authorities finally allowed the disembarkation of our remaining guests," Sea-Watch said in a tweet. "The constitution still has more power than a Minister, who disrespects the law according to the UN. We are grateful to the Italian people who defend solidarity."

Read more: Europe's migrant rescue boats face uncertain future

'Repressive' measures

Over the past year, human rights groups have criticized Salvini for attempting to block migrant rescue boats from docking at Italian ports.

Last year, Amnesty International accused the Italian government of "repressive management of the migratory phenomenon."

Since 2015, nearly half a million irregular migrants have made the dangerous journey across the central Mediterranean and made landfall in Italy, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

In a bid to prevent them from reaching European shores, Italy has trained the Libyan coastguard how to intercept boats carrying migrants. The training was supported by the EU.

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ls/aw (dpa, Reuters)