MILAN -- An Italian rescue ship with 46 migrants on board docked Saturday without incident in the Italian port of Lampedusa after declaring a state of emergency.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini -- who has barred all private rescue ships from entering Italian ports -- reacted angrily to the move with a series of tweets, starting with notice that the ship had "broken the law, ignored bans to enter Italian waters."
The vessel's maneuver was similar to one made by a German group's rescue ship a week ago that disobeyed direct orders from port officials and moored in Lampedusa -- but apparently without the counter-maneuvers by Italian authorities that led to the German ship's knocking against a police boat that attempted to block it.
Television images showed migrants wearing orange life jackets and sitting in rows on the bow of Mediterranea Saving Humans' sailboat Alex; applause could be heard in the background. But there was no immediate movement to disembark.
Salvini on Twitter pointed to an offer from Malta to accept the migrants from the Italian-flagged ship.
The group, which evacuated 13 passengers to the Italian coast guard Friday because of medical conditions, cited "intolerable hygienic conditions on board" for its decision to head to port. It said Lampedusa "is the only possible safe port for landing," as the ship was already in Italian territorial waters.
Meanwhile, the German humanitarian group Sea-Eye said its rescue ship Alan Kurdi, with 65 rescued people on board, was sailing toward Lampedusa. But the group indicated that it would wait in international waters and not seek an immediate confrontation.
Salvini, after the Alex docked, said he would deny the Alan Kurdi any request to enter port.
Earlier, Sea-Eye said it was "not intimidated" by Salvini, "but instead [will] head toward the nearest port of safety." Thirty-nine of its rescued passengers claim to be minors, the youngest of whom is 12, and 48 of the people fled Somalia, Sea-Eye said.
In Berlin, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said Saturday that, as in previous cases, Germany would be prepared to take some of the migrants from the Alan Kurdi and the Alex "in the framework of a European solution in solidarity." He said he had informed the European Commission of that Friday and had asked it to coordinate.
Seehofer, who himself has taken a restrictive line on migration, also urged his Italian counterpart to rethink his policy of closing the country's harbors to humanitarian groups' rescue ships.
The scenario involving the Alex is similar to that of the Sea-Watch 3, which docked at Lampedusa on June 29 after 17 days at sea, without receiving any indication that an offer of a port of safety was imminent for its remaining 40 migrants.
The captain, 31-year-old Carola Rackete, is under investigation after being accused of defying orders and aiding illegal immigration. A German citizen, she was freed from house arrest by a judge who said the threat from when the rescue ship bumped against a police boat should be kept in perspective. The migrants remain on the island.
In his tweets after the Alex's docking, Salvini appeared to be reacting to the fact that Rackete was not jailed.
"And by breaking the law, these jackals are putting at risk the lives of these migrants on board," Salvini said. "Will they also remain unpunished? In a serious country, arrests and seizure of the vessel would be immediate. What will the judges do this time???"
Italy has insisted that the Libyan coast guard intervene in all off-shore rescues and that the migrants be taken back to Libya. Nongovernmental organizations say that would go against maritime law because Libya is not considered a safe harbor, as evidenced by the bombing of a migrant center last week that killed dozens of people. The groups also say that Italy is violating maritime law by not providing a safe port to ships carrying out rescues at sea.
Italy argues that the presence of the ships encourages smugglers -- something the nongovernmental organizations deny -- and that Italy has been unfairly stuck with the burden of managing arrivals from northern Africa for the rest of Europe.
Information for this article was contributed by Geir Moulson of The Associated Press.
A Section on 07/07/2019
Print Headline: Migrant rescuers dock despite Italy ban