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Refugee rescue ships ask Italy why they've been singled out for coronavirus quarantine

Sea Watch and SOS Mediterranee/MSF say they must urgently return to saving men, women and children from drowning

TWO NGO refugee rescue ships have questioned why Italy has ordered them to remain in quarantine when no other vessels have been instructed to do so since the coronavirus outbreak hit the country.

After rescuing 194 refugees from a near certain death in the central Mediterranean and delivering them to dry land on Thursday, the Italian Ministry of Health ordered the Sea Watch 3’s crew to remain at anchor off Messina, Sicily.

On Monday, the Ocean Viking was ordered to do the same after it completed the rescue of over 270 people who had fled across the sea to escape Libya. The ship remains at sea off the Sicilian town of Pozzallo.

A spokesperson for Sea Watch, the German charity which operates the Sea Watch 3, told the Star that it had no reason to suspect that anyone on board the ship has been exposed to coronavirus.

“We have complied with public health measures and took necessary precautions on board with crew and the 194 rescued people now in Italy,” Sea Watch said.

“There is no clear justification given for now placing our crew in a 14-day quarantine at anchorage.

“As the only ships ordered to do so, this measure seems disproportional; it adversely affects NGO vessels and we are concerned about its implications in unnecessarily exacerbating the rescue gap in the central Mediterranean.”

SOS Mediterranee, a European charity which, along with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), operates the Ocean Viking, said it too had no reason to suspect that anyone on the ship has contracted or been exposed to the virus.

“This action seems to only target [search and rescue] NGO ships, as other ships in Italian ports do not meet the same fate,” SOS Mediterranee said.

“In compliance with a request from Italian authorities, the temperature and health status of all is being checked and reported by MSF medics on board twice daily.

“As conflict is escalating in Libya, people trapped in the country are risking their lives to escape across the Mediterranean. They will be in immediate danger.

“It is urgent for the Ocean Viking to go back to sea to rescue men, women and children from drowning.”

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