Rome, Jan 4 (EFE). Two humanitarian ships run by NGOs resumed operations in the central Mediterranean on Wednesday after new, stricter rules on maritime rescues of migrants by NGOs were approved by the government of the far-right Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni.
The Ocean Viking, of SOS Méditerranée, and the Geo Barents, run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which arrived Wednesday morning at the southern port of Taranto to disembark 85 people, were able to set sail after Italian authorities checked that they were compliant with the new law, which provides for fines or even seizure of the ship in case of non-compliance.
“Until our operations are replaced, we will continue to intervene to prevent people from being turned back or drowning: 25,000 have died since 2014, 1,400 in the last year alone,” the head of MSF mission, Juan Matias Gil, told reporters on Wednesday morning.
There were 85 people on board the Geo Barents, 9 of them unaccompanied minors, after the crew saved 41 migrants in a single rescue operation and transhipped 44 others from a merchant vessel that had carried out a rescue over the weekend.
Italy now immediately authorizes the disembarkations – which prevents humanitarian ships from assisting other migrant boats – and diverts the ships to ports all over Italy, which means that for several days the humanitarian ships will be outside the rescue zone.
The decree provides for the application of a regime of administrative sanctions rather than criminal ones, and may also proceed to “administrative detention of the vessel (against which an appeal is allowed) and, in case of recurrence of the prohibited conduct, its confiscation, preceded by precautionary seizure.”
“We ruled out the seizure of the Geo Barents, there is no valid reason. We are spending more money on lawyers than on search and rescue. It’s a paradox, it’s ridiculous. We are saving lives and we consult lawyers to question every measure, every new regulation, to see if it conforms to the law, including international law,” said Gil, who insisted that the new Italian regulation “contradicts international law.”
Also on Wednesday, the Ocean Viking resumed rescues in the central Mediterranean after setting sail from the distant Italian port of Ravenna (north), where it was directed a week ago by the Italian government.
The ship left early in the afternoon from Ravenna, on the Adriatic coast of Italy, after disembarking 113 migrants, including several minors, including a 20 day old baby, and is expected to reach the international waters of the central Mediterranean on Friday January 6. EFE