Italian Coast Guard stops migrant rescue ship for checks

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Palermo (Italy), Aug 2 (IANS/AKI) Italian Coast Guard blocked a migrant rescue ship chartered by the German NGO Jugend Rettet early on Wednesday off Lampedusa and escorted the vessel to the southern Italian island’s port for a routine check, the charity said.

“The IUVENTA was not confiscated. Our Crew is not arrested. What happened is a standard procedure,” the charity wrote on Facebook, referring to the name of its rescue vessel.

Jugend Rettet was one of six out of nine charities that on Monday refused to sign the Italian government’s controversial “code of conduct” on migrant search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

NGOs who did not sign the code of conduct were “excluded from the system of sea rescues,” the Italian Interior Ministry stated on Monday.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Jugend Rettet said it wanted to continue negotiations with the Italian government but did not sign the “code of conduct” due to its incompatibility with aspects of international maritime law and with the humanitarian principles that guided the charity’s work.

The 11 point-code requiring armed police on board NGO vessels and banning making phonecalls or firing flares has drawn criticism from rights groups including Amnesty International and the United Nations.

The new rules, which have been given a green light by the European Union, also forbid NGOs from sailing into Libyan waters unless lives are at risk.

In a letter stating why it could not sign the code, the Doctors without Borders charity also cited a ban on transferring rescued migrants from one vessel to another, which it said complicated its missions.

Only two out of nine NGOs that have been saving migrants in the Mediterranean signed the code on Monday in Rome.

A total 34 percent of rescue operations in the Mediterranean were carried out by NGOs and private rescue teams in the first four months of this year – more than by Italian coastguard or European border patrol forces, according to Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti.

–IANS/AKI

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