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Salvini closes Italy port to German rescue ship

August 27, 2019

Italy's interior minister is preventing a German rescue ship carrying 100 survivors from docking at national ports. The nationalist Matteo Salvini has been instrumental in barring rescue ships from Italy.

Lifeline ship
Image: picture alliance/dpa

On Tuesday, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini banned a German humanitarian ship carrying migrants rescued off Libya from entering Italian territorial waters. The boat took aboard 100 people from a a rubber lifeboat sinking roughly 50 kilometers (30 miles) off the Libyan coast on Monday.

Captain Claus-Peter Reisch said that Monday's rescue had taken place "literally in the last second." However, he added, "we still haven't received a positive response from EU states."

The charity Lifeline, which operates the 20-meter (65-foot) ship, Eleonore, has urged Germany's government to help identify a safe harbor. Should there be an emergency, representatives said, the boat will have to dock somewhere — permitted or not.

Read more: Libya's migrants under threat as battle for Tripoli sets in

"The politicians should deal with it quickly," Lifeline spokesperson Axel Steier told Germany's Catholic news agency, KNA, on Tuesday. "Otherwise, we'll have to deal with it."

Rescuers said Libya's coast guard threatened the boat, coming within 50 meters on the open sea, stirring the nerves of passengers who had just escaped the country. Steier said the people on the ship were undernourished and dehydrated. There are about 30 minors, including 15 unaccompanied children.

Read more: EU countries put pressure on refugee sea rescue missions

Leaving people adrift

Decrees such as the one signed Tuesday have become routine in Salvini's bid to prevent humanitarian rescue ships from bringing migrants to Italy. He has often complained that other EU countries do not take in their fair share of displaced people.

Though Italy and Malta have the EU ports closest to Libya, the countries have constructed policies to exclude humanitarian ships. Malta generally has accepted migrants rescued in its recognized area of responsibility. The positions have led to numerous standoffs.

Crews have also reported electronic interference that has hindered their searches for shipwrecks and cut into the time required to rescue survivors. Mission Lifeline reported disturbances in its GPS.

Last week, after being stranded at sea for days, more than 350 migrants aboard the Ocean Viking charity ship entered Malta, where officials assigned them to other EU countries. In 2018, a Lifeline ship was prevented from bringing survivors to Spain.

mkg/msh (EFE, AFP, KNA, dpa, AP)

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