Charity ship Sea-Watch entered Italian waters with 42 migrants aboard, defying an order from Rome to stay away and provoking the ire of Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.
The captain of the German-owned boat, which flies the Dutch flag, decided to head to Lampedusa because the situation on board was “more desperate than ever”, the group said in a statement.
It said Captain Carola Rackete felt maritime emergency law permitted the ship to enter Italian waters.
In his first reaction, Salvini did not mince his words.
“They are not allowed to dock, I am ready to send police. This has broken my balls,” Salvini said in a Facebook video. In a subsequent statement, he called Sea-Watch “an outlaw ship” and said Rome asked the Dutch government to assume responsibility for the migrants.
An Italian cabinet spokesman said Rome was considering “formal initiatives” to assess failings in the behaviour of the Dutch government.
Luigi Di Maio, head of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement which governs with the League, said charity ships insist on coming to Italy because they know it is the best way to grab media attention and more donations.
He said on Facebook when other mainstream governments turn away migrants the media don’t even mention it, whereas Italy, with its rightist/anti-establishment coalition, is “the stage of the Mediterranean.”
Shortly after the ship entered Italian waters without permission, Italian coastguard boats from Lampedusa flanked it.
According to a decree approved in June, the Interior Ministry has the power to deny access to territorial waters to vessels it considers a risk to security or public order and fine them.
Salvini, who heads the far-right League, repeatedly accused charity rescuers of complicity with people smugglers and closed Italy’s ports to their boats.
The Sea-Watch picked up 53 migrants from a rubber boat off Libya and remained in international waters since June 12. Eleven migrants were taken off the ship by the Italian coastguard for health reasons.
“I TAKE THEM TO SAFETY”
Rackete defied the Italian government after the European Court of Human Rights ruled Rome had no obligation to allow migrants to disembark, although it was obliged to offer assistance at sea.
“I decided to enter the port of Lampedusa. I know what I risk, but the 42 shipwrecked on board are exhausted. I take them to safety,” she said on the ship’s Twitter account.
An Italian magistrate ordered Sea-Watch seized last month after it rescued migrants, accusing the crew of breaching immigration rules. It was released at the start of June and returned to the Libyan coastline.