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A GERMAN migrant rescue charity staged a silent protest outside a prefecture hall in Italy today to demand that the government release its ship three-and-a-half months after it was seized.
The Italian government impounded the Sea Watch 3, owned by the charity Sea Watch, in June after captain Carola Rackete defied former interior minister Matteo Salvini’s ban from the country’s territorial waters and disembarked 40 refugees in Lampedusa.
The charity’s campaigns manager Chris Grodotzki told the Star the protest was to remind Agrigento prefect Dario Caputo to do his job.
“Our ship remains blocked in Licata,” Mr Grodotzki said, “due to his tactical silence on the case.
“The initial criminal seizure, put in place after Captain Carola Rackete entered Lampedusa port after an 18-day standoff in a state of necessity, was lifted weeks ago.
“Technically an additional administrative seizure (under Matteo Salvini's security law) is void by now, due to the prefect’s omission to formalise it.
“Therefore the ship should be free to leave port and resume rescue operations at the deadliest border of the world — the Mediterranean Sea — but at the same time remains stuck, due to the very same omission of the prefect to act.
“Sea-Watch and the Italian Coast Guard have requested a response on the status of the ship various times but the prefect’s office plays on delaying tactics.
“Only one-and-a-half weeks ago our search aircraft Moonbird had to witness yet another deadly shipwreck leaving at least 25 people dead, six miles off Lampedusa.
“The arbitrary detention of our ship (under an anyway unjust law, created by a toppled far-right minister), and the silence of Italian and European politics, shows clearly that the campaign against civil sea rescue is not over yet — even with its populist poster boy Salvini kicked out of office.”
Fellow German migrant rescue NGO Mission Lifeline said it hoped the Sea Watch 3 would be released soon. The Italian authorities have also seized one of its ships, the Eleonor.
Alex Steier, a spokesman for Mission Lifeline, echoed Mr Grodotzki’s statement, telling the Star that despite the rhetoric, the EU’s policies towards the civil refugee rescue fleet have barely changed.
“Salvini’s gone and some member states are trying to protect their faces by making it easier for us NGOs to bring in rescued people.
“But the Libyan Coastguard is still being paid to take refugees back to a civil war. This is a clear violation of applicable law, but has been practised since early 2018 and costs many lives.
“We have repeatedly called on the International Criminal Court to take action against the authorities involved, in vain.”
Meanwhile in the central Mediterranean, over a hundred migrants were rescued today from a rubber dinghy by the Ocean Viking, a ship operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee, just two days after it returned to sea after disembarking 176 refugees in Italy.
“The Ocean Viking has just rescued 104 people from a rubber boat in distress, spotted directly by the teams with binoculars, at 50 nautical miles from the Libyan coast,” MSF tweeted this afternoon.
“Among the survivors, now all safe on board, are 10 women with two babies, and 40 minors.”
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