The Mare Jonio used to be a commercial tug boat | Credit: picture-alliance/dpa/Mediterranea/Sea Watch
The Mare Jonio used to be a commercial tug boat | Credit: picture-alliance/dpa/Mediterranea/Sea Watch

A new migrant rescue ship has set sail for the waters off Libya. The Italian-flagged private vessel "Mare Jonio" says it is motivated by "moral disobedience and civil obedience" in the face of growing opposition to such rescue missions by the Italian government.

The Mare Jonio is a former tug boat, which was bought by the humanitarian group Mediterranea and refitted to fit the purpose of helping people on perilous journeys to Europe. The vessel left Augusta in Sicily on Wednesday evening, according to maritime tracking websites.

The 37-meter (120-foot) long ship is in part supported by a crowd-funding initiative spearheaded by the German Sea-Watch initiative. Sea-Watch spokesman Ruben Neugebauer told Deutsche Welle in an interview that his organization supports civilian rescue missions in the Mediterranean because the current death rate on the Mediterranean Sea "is at a record high."

"We are sending a ship to the deadliest waters in the world. At the moment, one in every five persons that tries to cross the Mediterranean drowns or disappears, according to official data by the IOM. If we are not there, people will drown."

Mediterranea spokeswoman Ada Talarico told reporters: "Our mission is to be present: Present at sea to monitor, to witness, to report the dramatic situation that every day women, men and children risk to cross the Mediterranean Sea."

"We want to save ourselves from a present and future of hatred and intolerance," she said.

The chief mission of the Mare Jonio is to spot migrant boats that are in distress rather than rescuing migrants directly. It will provide a civilian presence in an area where according to organizers of the mission, the Libyan coastguard and international military vessels are failing to rescue people.

More than just a provocation

The initiative comes as a direct response to Italy's recent policy of refusing non-Italian rescue ships to dock in Italy with migrants they have rescued at sea.

•••• ➤ Also read: Italy gets tough on migrants

"We challenge the European policy of letting people drown," Sea-Watch spokesman Ruben Neugebauer told DW.

Italian lawmaker Nicola Fratoianni, whose party backs the Mare Jonio project, said the humanitarian operation wasn't merely meant as a provocation against Italy's hard-line Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and his deadly policy but "a real rescue operation to fill the lack of rescue assets in the Mediterranean Sea."

Salvini has mounted a crackdown against aid groups, who help to rescue migrants traveling aboard unseaworthy smugglers' boats.

According to the International Organization for Migration, 1,741 migrants have died in the attempt to cross the Mediterranean this year alone.


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