New Italian rules could keep humanitarian ships out of port

MILAN (AP) — The new Italian government has prepared directives that could be used to once again prevent humanitarian rescue groups from accessing Italy’s ports, according to Italian media reports Wednesday.

Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi signed a directive Tuesday notifying port and other relevant authorities that the SOS Mediteranée’s Ocean Viking rescue ship, and SOS Humanity’s Humanity 1, did not follow European norms while carrying out the rescues of 326 migrants on Monday and Tuesday, the reports said. The new minister also reportedly claimed that they acted without having received directions from authorities in charge of the search and rescue areas in question, in this case Libya and Malta.

The daily Corriere della Sera reported Wednesday that the ministry was considering whether to block the rescue ships’ access to Italian waters as a result, which would align with the hardline policies enacted by former interior minister Matteo Salvini, in 2018-19.

The head of SOS Mediteranée Italy told Radio 24 that the group has not been formally notified of the new directive, and contested that the rescue ship acted counter to norms. The Ocean Viking, carrying 146 people, including children, rescued off Malta on Tuesday is currently awaiting word on a safe port of entry.

“We have been accused of providing rescue in full autonomy without informing authorities, and this is not true. It is absolutely not true,’’ Alessandro Porro told Radio 24. “Authorities, especially those in Italy, know every well what we do, where we do it and are kept informed step by step. Our procedure is that once we identify a boat in difficulty, we inform the competent authorities, be they in Italy, Malta, Libya or the country of our flag, Norway.’’

He added that ship captains are obliged to help boats in distress according to international conventions, while the nations involved should handle coordination, which hasn’t happened since 2018.

Meanwhile, the Italian Coast Guard and a Spanish patrol have rescued more than more than 1,100 migrants and recovered two bodies from fishing boats in the central Mediterranean overnight, authorities said Wednesday.

Authorities said the boats had departed from eastern Libya. There was no immediate word on when the migrants would be brought to shore.

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