Italy continues to refuse safe harbor to three NGO vessels hoping to dock and unload nearly 1,000 rescued migrants. The situation on board those private rescue ships meanwhile is deteriorating, as Italian politicians renew their calls to have arriving migrants distributed across the EU.
Nearly 1,000 rescued migrants are waiting off the coast of Italy on three rescue boats run by civilian organizations. The Geo Barents, Ocean Viking and Humanity 1 vessels are all waiting to be assigned a port for disembarkation.
The Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity wrote on Twitter that 572 people were on board its Geo Barents vessel, while SOS Humanity, which runs the Humanity 1, has 179 people on board its vessel. The Ocean Viking, which is run by SOS Mediterranee, is currently carrying 234 people.
The NGOs operating the ships say that the conditions on board the ships had worsened because of the long wait over the past few days, adding that some of those aboard needed urgent assistance. The rescued migrants have been at sea on board the NGO vessels for more than a week now.
In addition to reaching out to Italian authorities, the rescue vessels have also contacted Maltese officials in hopes of being granted safe harbor. The charities say that all their requests to dock have proved unsuccessful thus far.
More EU solidarity needed
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi told the Corriere della Sera daily newspaper that Italy "cannot take in migrants who are picked up at sea by foreign ships operating without any planned coordination with the authorities."
In that interview, Piantedosi refused to reply to the question if or when the boats would be allowed to dock. He went on to highlight that the migrants rescued by these three organizations on average account for 16% of migrant arrivals in Italy, adding that the Italian coast guard and other officials saved the lives of the remaining 84%.
Piantedosi added that Italy "will never waive its duties to rescue people at sea, but we believe the time has come for European solidarity to finally become concrete."
The interior minister suggested, however, that the countries under whose flags the charity ships are operating should be in charge of accept the migrants. The same sentiment was echoed by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who said that Germany and Norway -- under whose flags the three vessels operate -- should be charged with taking care of the migrants currently stranded at sea.
The Humanity 1 sails under the German flag, while the other two vessels operate under the Norwegian flag.
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Meloni: 'Rescue vessels are pirate ships'
Prime Minister Meloni has already said that her new government might ban NGO-run vessels from even entering its waters altogether.
While many charities have said that Italy's refusal to allow migrants to disembark is in breach of international law, Meloni has turned that accusation on its head, saying that these NGOs allegedly were in breach of international law, acting as a "shuttle service" between Africa and Europe.
"If an NGO ship flies, let's say, the flag of Germany, there are two possibilities: either Germany recognizes it and takes care of it, or that ship becomes a pirate ship," Meloni was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency.
with dpa, Reuters, Corriere della Sera