Migrant rescue ships pile up pressure on Italy

Another group of rescued migrants have disembarked onto Italian soil from a charity ship, a day after the captain defied a ban on docking in the country.

Despite warnings, the Alex sailed to the port of Lampedusa on Saturday July 6th because of “intolerable hygienic conditions” aboard.

The 41 migrants came ashore after hours of waiting under guard. Mediterranea, which runs the Alex, posted an image of the group coming ashore.

Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini had earlier vowed he would not allow migrants to disembark.

Choosing Facebook to broadcast his statement, he said on a live stream that “I saw that the German government wrote me a letter today asking to reopen the ports and to let all the migrants disembark. No, no, no, absolutely not.”

Mediterranea said that Italian Authorities boarded the Alex shortly after midnight on Sunday morning to announce they were seizing the ship and opening an investigation into the captain for aiding illegal immigration.

Mediterranea had earlier tweeted that its exhausted crew were living through a “surreal situation”, and prolonging the wait was “an unnecessary cruelty”.

Spokeswoman Alessandra Sciurba said at the quayside that it was “an unbelievable situation. There are people at risk of fainting. The toilets are not working. It’s as though we are kidnapped.”

When the Alex announced its intention to follow Sea Watch 3 and to land at Lampedusa on Saturday, Salvini said that “in a serious country, arrests and seizure… would be immediate: what will the judges do this time?”

Italian newspaper La Repubblica has reported that the League Party, junior party with Five Star in a coalition government, but ahead in the opinion polls, has proposed raising fines to up to €1m and changing the law to make it easier to seize ships.

Earlier, Malta said on Friday that it would take in 54 migrants rescued by Alex, but that it would dispatch to Italy a similar number of migrants already on its territory. The mainly Africans were picked up on Thursday by the Alex.

Meanwhile the lawyer for Carola Rackete, the German captain of migrant rescue ship Sea Watch 3, said she would be suing Interior Minister Salvini for defamation. Rackete was freed from house arrest on Tuesday after a judge dismissed accusations she had endangered the lives of Italian servicemen by ignoring military orders and bringing a boatload of migrants to the port of Lampedusa.

Salvini has called Rackete a pirate and an outlaw, as well as promising to expel her from Italy. Rackete’s lawyer Alessandro Gamberini said a lawsuit had been drawn up. “We have already prepared the case against minister Salvini,” he told Radio Cusano Campus “A defamation case is a way of sending a signal. When people get hit in the wallet they understand that they cannot insult people gratuitously,” Gamberini said. Should the case go ahead and should Salvini lose, he could face large fines.

Salvini replied, once again on Twitter, that “she breaks laws and attacks Italian military ships, and then sues me. Mobsters don’t frighten me, let alone a rich and spoiled German communist!”.

Meanwhile a third rescue boat, the Alan Kurdi announced it was following the Alex to Lampedusa despite the risk. It tweeted that “we are not intimidated by a Minister of Interior but instead head towards the nearest port of safety. The law of the sea applies, even when some government representatives refuse to believe that.”