The ship Mare Jonio from the NGO "Mediterranea Saving Humans" in the port of Palermo | Photo: ANSA/IGOR PETYX
The ship Mare Jonio from the NGO "Mediterranea Saving Humans" in the port of Palermo | Photo: ANSA/IGOR PETYX

Italian migrant rescue ship Mare Jonio, now south of Lampedusa in Italian territorial waters with 99 migrants on board, is the latest NGO vessel to be barred from entering Italian ports. The crew has asked Italian authorities to provide a safe port for them. Meanwhile, German NGO vessel Eleonore is in a similar situation.

Italy's outgoing Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has signed a decree banning Italian search and rescue vessel Mare Jonio carrying 99 migrants from entering Italian waters.

The move follows a similar ban on another rescue ship, the German-flagged Eleonore, which was barred Tuesday as part of a closed ports policy championed by Salvini to stem illegal immigration from North Africa.

Salvini's ban could well be one of his last actions: A new Italian government starts to take shape after the ruling coalition, which includes the minister's League party, imploded this week.

The Mare Jonio, operated by Italian charity Mediterranea Saving Humans, this week picked up the migrants off the Libyan coast in a rubber dinghy which was drifting and was already beginning to deflate.

Mediterranea said 22 of the people rescued were children, some of them very small - "castaways with dummies in their mouths" - while at least eight of the 26 women were pregnant. "There are cases of hypothermia and some of them have obvious signs of mistreatment and torture suffered in Libya. They all escaped from hell," Mediterranea said.

Salvini versus private sea rescue

Italy has long complained it has not been getting enough support from Europe in dealing with the migration issue.

After he took office last year, Salvini shut ports to rescue ships run by private aid groups. Since then, there have been about a dozen prominent stand-offs between him and private rescue boats.

The boats were left stuck at sea for days or weeks as EU states spar over what to do with the people aboard.

Last week, Malta allowed 356 migrants carried by the rescue vessel Ocean Viking to disembark after six European Union countries agreed to share the asylum seekers.

NGO vessel Eleonore also in limbo

German search and rescue vessel Eleonore, meanwhile, is in a similar impasse as the Mare Jonio. Currently sailing around 30 kilometers off the coast of Malta, the crew has appealed to Malta to help find a quick solution so the ship can enter a safe harbor. Italy and Malta are the closest European ports.

"We are not in a position to manage a prolonged stand-off," charity Mission Lifeline, which operates the vessel, wrote in a letter Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the Lifeline's crew had rescued some 100 migrants from a collapsing dinghy in the Mediterranean about 50 kilometers (30 miles) off the Libyan coast.

The German government said it is willing to take in a considerable number of people, but asked the European Commission (EC) to help organize the coordination of the case. Malta generally has accepted migrants rescued in its area of responsibility. The positions have led to numerous standoffs.

Germany's foreign minister Heiko Maas on Thursday again insisted on a European solution for the rescue of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. "Each ship with people saved from distress at sea that has to wait for days on the high seas to enter a safe port is one too many," Maas said today.

With material from Reuters, AP


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