Italy coastguard blocks German migrant rescue ship over safety issues

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A German rescue ship that took nearly 400 migrants to Sicily earlier this month has been impounded by the Italian authorities because of safety issues, the charity that operates it said Monday.

The Sea-Watch 3 vessel, run by the Sea-Watch organization, is being held by the Italian coastguard in the Sicilian port of Augusta, where it docked on March 3 with 363 migrants on March 3 picked up in the Mediterranean.


The action was ordered after the ship was found in breach of regulations on navigation safety, on board fire prevention, environmental protection and crew training, a coastguard statement said.

“Since last night #SeaWatch3 is under administrative detention in Augusta. They are again accusing us of having rescued too many people,” the Sea-Watch charity tweeted.

“Should we have let 363 human beings die because of the indifference of the authorities, which continue to provide no alternative to our presence at sea?”

Meanwhile, the Ocean Viking, another charity vessel that picked up 116 migrants in the Mediterranean last week, was stuck in high seas south of Malta, waiting for permission to enter a port.

It is not the first time that the Italian coastguard has blocked charity vessels, and groups targeted by the measures have routinely called them unjustified and politically motivated.

The aid groups have also faced accusations of colluding with Libyan migrant traffickers to bring people to safety on European shores – charges they strongly deny.

Prosecutors in Sicily have investigated Doctors without Borders (MSF) and Save the Children over the allegations, and are expected to demand a trial.

Italy is a prime entry point for Europe-bound migrants, but the sea stretch between Sicily and North Africa is one of the world’s deadliest migration routes.

Almost 530,000 migrants have landed on Italian shores since the start of 2015, including some 6,000 in the year to date, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Since January, there were also 232 migrants who died or went missing on the sea journey to Italy or Malta, compared to 983 over the course of 2020, the UN agency estimates.

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