Sea-Watch captain plans disembarking at Lampedusa island after two-week standoff
After a two-week stand-off with Italian authorities a ship carrying 42 migrants has reached the Sicilian island of Lampedusa in defiance of a ban by the countrys hard-line interior minister, Matteo Salvini.
Carola Rackete, captain of the Sea-Watch 3 vessel, said on Wednesday she was determined to risk entering the port because the situation on board the Dutch-flagged ship was now more desperate than ever.
Salvini, who has closed Italian waters to NGO rescue vessels, leaving several boats stranded at sea for weeks, said in a Facebook video that his patience had run out. We will use every lawful means to stop an outlaw ship, which puts dozens of migrants at risk for a dirty political game.
In a video released by Sea-Watch, Rackete said: I know this is risky and that I will probably lose the boat, but the 42 shipwrecked on board are exhausted. I will bring them to safety.
Sea-Watch, a German NGO, rescued a group of migrants drifting in an inflatable raft off the coast of Libya on 12 June, but declined to have them disembark in Tripoli, and instead went towards Lampedusa.
Libya is not a safe country, said Giorgia Linardi, a spokeswoman for Sea-Watch, in Italy. Forcibly taking rescued people back to a war-torn country, having them imprisoned and tortured, is a crime that we will never commit.
The European court of human rights declined to intervene in the standoff but called on Italy to continue to provide all necessary assistance to vulnerable migrants.
One of the rescued migrants, a man from Ivory Coast, said in a video released by Sea-Watch on Tuesday: We cant hold on any longer. Its like were in a prison because we are deprived of everything. Help us, think of us.
Salvini, however, called the Sea-Watch an outlaw ship and said Rome had asked the Dutch government to assume responsibility for the migrants.
By early evening the ship was about two to three nautical miles away from Lampedusa and it had been boarded by Italian financial police. A Sea-Watch spokesman, Ruben Neugebauer, said: We are waiting for Italian authorities now. There is not much more we can do. We will not run away.
Claudia Lodesani, president of Mdecins Sans Frontires in Italy, said: The new decree is threatening legal principles and the duty of saving lives. It is like fining ambulances for carrying patients to hospital.
With sea conditions currently favourable, thousands were preparing to leave Libya, where war and political instability have been aggravated by floods caused by heavy rain. Without rescue boats, however, the number of shipwrecks was thought likely to rise further. Only two of the 10 NGO rescue boats active in the Mediterranean were still present.
According to data from the UN International Organisation for Migration about 3,200 people have reached Italy and Malta from north Africa since the beginning of 2019. Almost 350 have died en route. The death rate for those crossing along the central Mediterranean route stands at about 11%.