NGO's warn the new measures introduced by the Italian government, which aim to restrict sea rescue operations by private ships, could result in thousands of deaths in the Mediterranean.
There is a lot of anger among NGOs after the Italian Council of Ministers passed a new decree that establishes a code of conduct which includes sanctions of up to €50,000 and seizures of NGO vessels, if they fail to comply with the new rules during sea rescue missions.
Under the new rules, ships are required to request a port and sail to it immediately each time they complete a rescue mission, rather than remaining at sea to conduct further rescue operations.
Many NGOs are up in arms: Some have asked their own country to safeguard them, others have announced they will continue to set sail in the Mediterranean in the coming days to continue to save shipwrecked migrants.
The German NGO Sea-Eye has called the new measures "illegal" and has asked the German government for "protection and safeguards" while the Geo Barents, operated by Doctors without Borders (MSF) resumed its route in the Mediterranean.
Also read: Italy prompts outrage with clampdown on migrant sea rescuers
Criticism from the Catholic Church
Even the Catholic Church has condemned the new rules: "This decree will soon fall, meaning that it is built on nothing", commented Monsignor Gian Carlo Perego, President of the Episcopal Commission for Migration of the CEI (the Italian Episcopal Conference).
"It is a paradox for an instrument which in the last years has served as a safeguard for at least 10% of the people who have arrived in our country and in Europe...is considered an instrument that is not safe," he added in reference to the NGO ships.
The Catholic newspaper Avvenire has been equally critical, titling its front page editorial on the security decree "Another war that makes no sense", where it is written that: "When you read the governmental decree one would think the ships are carrying 'hazardous material'".
Also read: Italy planning to tighten rules on NGO migrant rescues
Challenging the decree, 'we will continue to save lives'
The Geo Barents of Doctors Without Borders will continue its mission. "The government's strategy aims at obstructing search and rescue missions of the NGOs. But we will continue to save human lives", MSF said in a statement.
MSF rescued 41 migrants from a capsized boat off Libya after receiving a request from the Italian national maritime rescue coordination center on Sunday night. In the ship's first rescue since the Italian government introduced the new code of conduct, forcing vessels to only conduct single operations at a time.
Sea-Eye has also made its position clear explaining that it "will not abide by any illegal code of conduct or any other official directive that violates international law or the laws of the State under which we set sail, in this case Germany. We reject this so called code and we fear that this may create conflict with Italian authorities. We expect the German government to protect us".
Similar comments were also made by the Italian NGO Emergency, which recalls that "nearly 1,400 persons lost their lives in the Central Mediterranean this year" and "the consequences of this decree will be an increase in the number of deaths at sea".
Also read: Ocean Viking docks in Ravenna, unloading the hopes and dreams of dozens of migrants