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Italy accused of detaining NGO refugee ships on false pretences

The civil rescue fleet warns the country's actions could be used as a pretext to stop their life-saving missions

THE Italian government has been accused of detaining two rescue ships under false pretences in order to prevent charities from bringing rescued asylum-seekers into the country.  

Authorities in Sicily seized rescue ships Alan Kurdi on Tuesday and the Aita Mari on Wednesday for allegedly breaching maritime safety regulations.

Both vessels arrived on the island on Monday having spent two-weeks off shore in quarantine following rescue missions last month.

The Alan Kurdi saved the lives of 150 refugees in April and was then subjected to a 12-day stand-off before Italy’s coastguard picked up the rescued.

The Aita Mari saved 47 lives before Italy took charge of them six days later.

Sea Eye, the charity which operates the Alan Kurdi, said on Wednesday that it was unconvinced by official excuses for preventing the Alan Kurdi from returning to sea.

“The reasoning of Italian authorities, that they are concerned about the safety of the crew and the rescued, seems grotesque,” Sea Eye chairman Gorden Isler said.

“If they had really been concerned about the safety of the rescued, then they shouldn’t have blockaded them for 12 days on board the Alan Kurdi.”

The civil fleet, as the collection NGO rescue ships is often collectively called, leapt to the Alan Kurdi and Aita Mari's defence and demanded Italy release them.

“If 'people’s safety' was the priority, as [the Italian coastguard] says, there would be Italian and EU search-and-rescue vessels at sea,” German charity Sea Watch said yesterday.

“Instead, the task to save lives is left to NGOs, which are then punished and disrupted from their rescue missions.”

Italian rescuers Mediterranea: Saving Humans, who operate the Mare Jonio, warned that Italy's actions could be used as a pretext to stop those who save lives at sea.

“We do not see the same fury from the authorities when the obligation to rescue at sea is violated, when rescues are delayed causing tragedies and deaths, or when dozens of castaways are kept offshore without a port for days.

“All our solidarity and strength goes to the Alan Kurdi and the Aita Mari, to their commanders and their crews.

“We are confident that they will be ready to return to sea soon, fulfilling all the legitimate requirements, as we prepare to do with our Mare Jonio.

“In the meantime, those who take responsibility for blocking the last civilian ships left to save lives should immediately replace them with adequate government structures to intervene as quickly as possible throughout the central Mediterranean.” 

Meanwhile, 78 people rescued on Sunday by the Antigua & Barbudan-registered cargo ship Marina, remain on board off the coast of Malta with nowhere to go.

Elsewhere, the activist network Alarm Phone reported on Tuesday night that it had been contacted by 46 people – including pregnant women and three babies — in Malta’s search-and-rescue (SAR) zone.

“Contact between [us] and the people in distress broke down 21 hours ago, when they were in Maltese SAR,” the activists tweeted today.

“We still don't know if the people were rescued or not as [Malta has failed] to inform us.”

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