Italian authorities have given permission to the charity vessel Sea-Eye 4, with over 400 rescued migrants on board, to dock in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo. Sea-Eye criticized the decision, saying that another port would have been much closer.
According to its own information, the migrant rescue ship Sea-Eye 4 has been given permission to dock at the port town of Pozzallo on the southeastern coast of Sicily. The German organization Sea-Eye, which operates the vessel, expressed relief. At the same time, it criticized that it'd take them two days to reach Pozzallo.
"How do you get the idea to send a rescue ship with hundreds of exhausted people and 150 children on a two-day sea voyage, although it was already near a safe port?", it asked on Twitter late Wednesday (May 19).
Spokesperson Gorden Isler told the news agency dpa that "It is totally incomprehensible to us that Pozzallo should be the nearest safe haven for people when we are in Palermo." He said the measure could be classified as "harassment."
The mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando, on Wednesday called on Italian authorities to ensure the rescued migrants' health, saying Palermo was "ready to welcome" them. "Delays could endanger their lives," he wrote on Twitter.
At the time of publication in the early afternoon, the Sea-Eye 4 was some 200 kilometers east of Palermo near the Italian mainland, according to vessel tracking service marinetraffic.com. Yesterday (May 19), the Italian coast guard yesterday evacuated a young man who needed medical treatment, according to Sea-Eye.
Six rescues in one week
In its first-ever mission to save migrants in distress in the Mediterranean Sea, the Sea-Eye 4 conducted six separate rescue operations since last week. On Sunday (May 16), it picked up more than 170 people who were trying to reach European shores in unseaworthy wooden boats. Among those rescued were children, an eight-month-old baby and a pregnant woman.
"We had to treat 12 people in hospital; one child and one adult man needed prolonged stabilization. Fortunately, however, there are no seriously injured people among those rescued," the ship's operations doctor said. On Monday, the crew was nearing "the limit" of their capacity to care for its passengers, the organization reported.
Initially introduced last November, the Sea-Eye 4 began its first mission at the beginning of May. The ship was refitted in the northern German port city of Rostock and is supported by United4Rescue, a coalition of non-profit organizations, which also helps to fund the Sea-Watch 4 rescue ship.
According to the latest UN figures, more than 570 people have died so far this year trying to cross the central Mediterranean to Europe. Most of them left from Libya and Tunisia. Earlier this week, a boat carrying migrants capsized off Tunisia, leaving at least 50 people disappeared. Authorities said that 33 others were rescued by workers from an oil platform in the Mediterranean Sea.