Panama stops Aquarius. Salvini: 'It won't arrive in Italy'

Interior minister: 'I'll report those helping smugglers'

24 September, 18:13

    ROME - The migrant-rescue vessel Aquarius "will never arrive in Italy", Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said. "We are working with all required lawyers but I can assure all Italians that this ship will never arrive in Italy. I do not want to be an accomplice of human trafficking", he said.

    Salvini spoke after a new controversy on immigration, with the Aquarius vessel that saw its Panama flag revoked. Doctors without Borders, which operates the ship together with Sos Mediterranée, has accused Italy of putting pressure on Panama, an allegation denied by the interior ministry.

    Salvini warned the Aquarius, the only vessel connected to an NGO still operating in the Mediterranean. "I will report those helping smugglers for aiding illegal immigration", he said.

    Traffickers, Salvini added, have resumed working "in cooperation with some NGOs", including the Aquarius, the interior minister claimed, accusing the vessel of "hindering the work of Libyan coast guards, ignoring their indications". "After enduring the same decision made by Gibraltar, it is now about to be cancelled from Panama's naval vessel register".

    The process to take away the flag started on September 21.

    The Aquarius thus risks becoming a 'pirate' ship.

    However, the NGOs have rejected such claims. Over the last 72 hours, they said, the ship helped two vessels at sea and now has 58 people onboard. The team was "shocked" by Panama's announcement "to be forced to revoke the inscription of the Aquarius from its naval registry under the clear economic and political pressure of Italian authorities". The NGOs are essentially accusing Italy of putting pressure on Panama, citing a passage of the communication they received from Panama's authorities.

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