Sea rescue NGOs and Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi have clashed after the arrival in the port of Ancona of the migrant-rescue vessel Ocean Viking with 37 migrants on board.
The controversy between Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi and NGOs was sparked by the choice of Ancona as the port of disembarkation, which is considered to be too far among sea rescue NGOs. However, the minister accused the NGOs operating humanitarian ships of creating a "pull factor" and enticing migrants to cross the Mediterranean.
The private migrant rescue ship Ocean Viking reached the port of Ancona on Tuesday, January 10 with 37 people on board. The Geo Barents, operated by the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) NGO was also ordered to disembark its rescued migrants in Ancona on the Adriatic sea the same day.
"We are obeying orders, but we will not remain silent or inactive," Doctors Without borders said in a statement.
Both the Ocean Viking and the Geo Barents had in vain requested to disembark the rescued migrants at the closest port so they could return to saving lives more quickly.
Piantedosi: NGOs create 'pull factor'
Interior Minister Piantedosi meanwhile has defended his hard-line stance on immigration, accusing these humanitarian vessels of posing a "pull factor" encouraging departures. He added that Italian authorities are investigating whether there are any relations between NGOs and human traffickers.
Piantedosi also said that the presence of NGO rescue ships could be partly to blame for the poor condition of boats and dinghies departing from Africa; he said that because smugglers know that migrants are being picked up by these private rescue boats, they don't invest in vessels that might be able to withstand the conditions at sea for longer.
"The quality of production of boats on which migrants depart" has deteriorated, Piantedosi said, adding that "this favours the tragedies that subsequently occur."
MSF: orders against international maritime law
SOS Mediterranee, which operates the Ocean Viking, mea while also said that prolonged journeys to disembark rescued migrants on board were also detrimental to their health:
"As expected, the weather has significantly deteriorated with 40 knot winds and six-meter-high waves, adding pain to the 37 survivors who just escaped death," the organization stressed, adding that 95% of passengers were seasick.
"This further suffering could have been spared with the designation of a closer port of safety in Italy," SOS Mediterranee said.
MSF meanwhile highlighted the fact that Italian authorities "categorically" denied its requests, leaving it with "no other choice" but to continue its journey to Ancona.
It stressed, however, that abiding by the orders "doesn’t mean that we agree."
"Our position remains unvaried: it is unacceptable to send us to Ancona while other suitable ports are much closer, especially in these weather conditions. This goes against international maritime law and the best interest of survivors"
Italy wants to run its own course
Piantedosi disagreed with that assessment, saying that the government had taken "action according to international law.
We don't deny the possibility of rescuing but we are trying to provide a framework of rules. Sea rescue operations and actions to control the Mediterranean are carried out by the state and its organizations, finance police and coast guards," he stressed.
"We have the ambition of managing the phenomenon ourselves, and we can't allow private ships, which also have flags of other states, to replace the Italian State," he added.