NGO ships present challenge to Salvini's closed-port policy

Mediterranea, Sea Eye and Open Arms 'only ones saving lives'

05 July, 18:20

    ROME - Three NGO migrant vessels are currently patrolling the Mediterranean, following a brief period in which rescue vessels were all under seizure by Italian and Maltese judicial authorities.
    The vessels - the Alex&co of Mediterranea Saving Humans, the Open Arms of the Spanish organisation Proactiva Open Arms, and the Alan Kurdi of the German NGO Sea Eye - present a challenge to Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's policy of closed ports, especially given the increase in migrant boat departures during the warm summer months.
    The Mediterranea's first ship, the Mare Jonio, is still under seizure at the port of Licata.
    Last week the NGO launched the sailboat Alex&co, a civilian vessel bearing an Italian flag, "equipped not for search and rescue activities, but only to offer first aid when encountering shipwrecks in danger".
    That happened on Thursday, when the Alex&co saved 45 struggling migrants.
    It is currently near Lampedusa awaiting approval to disembark.
    The Open Arms, flying a Spanish flag, in recent months was the focus of rescues and controversy.
    "Given the total absence of organisations in the area that can document what is happening and guarantee a rapid intervention when needed, our mission is that of protecting, with our presence, people whose lives are in danger, until the relevant authorities replace us," it said.
    The Alan Kurdi, flying a German flag, featured on Friday in a rescue operation in the Libyan search-and-rescue zone.
    The ship takes its name from the three-year-old Syrian child who drowned in the Mediterranean and was found washed up on a Turkish beach on September 2, 2015.
    On the day the captain of the Sea Watch, Carola Rackete, was arrested, Interior Minister Salvini warned NGOs performing rescue operations that they would face "maxi fines, vessel seizure, ban on entrance in territorial waters, and in cases of disobedience, arrest".
    A judge in Agrigento, however, decided not to confirm Rackete's arrest, thus giving new life to the NGOs at work patrolling the central Mediterranean, and most likely a precursor for further government clashes and judicial encounters.

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