Rome, June 22 (IANS/AKI) Italy on Friday asked Malta to allow the German NGO-run migrant-rescue ship Lifeline to dock at one of its ports and let the over 200 migrants on board disembark but detain the crew.
“It’s an illegal ship with an illegal flag.
“We would like to know who is financing this ship which is carrying a human cargo and is located in Maltese waters,” anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said at a political rally in the central Italian city of Siena.
“To ensure the safety of those on board, we ask Malta to open one of its ports, allow these desperate people to disembark, seize the ship and detain its crew so it cannot ever ply the waters of the Mediterranean again.”
The Italian port authority also formally requested Malta to allow the German NGO-run migrant-rescue ship Lifeline with over 200 migrants on board to dock at one of its ports, AKI learned from government sources.
The Italian government claims the German NGO acted illegally by picking up the 224 migrants including four children on Thursday off the Libyan coast instead of allowing Libyan Coastguard to rescue them.
The government also alleges that Lifeline and another ship operated by the NGO are “illegally” flying the Dutch flag after the Dutch representation to the European Union said on Thursday that the ships did not appear in the Dutch naval registers.
Mission Lifeline denies this claim and on Thursday posted the Lifeline’s Dutch registration document to its Twitter account as proof.
The charity’s co-founder, Axel Steier, denied breaking any laws and defended his organisation’s actions in rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean.
Salvini has repeatedly accused NGOs of being complicit with human smugglers operating in Libya and Thursday vowed on Facebook that “foreign NGO boats will never touch Italian soil again”.
His Friday comments appeared to contradict a statement on Thursday by Infrastructure Minister Danilo Toninelli that Italy would transfer the rescued migrants from the Lifeline to Italian boats and would “seize the ship”.
Earlier this month, Salvini refused to open Italy’s ports to the NGO Sos Mediterranee’s ship Aquarius with some 630 rescued migrants on board, leaving it stranded in the Mediterranean after Malta declined to help.
Amid a diplomatic standoff sparked by Italy’s hardline stance, the boat was eventually taken to the Spanish port of Valencia.