Possible internal disputes between League and 5-Star have marine implications

SAR vessel Lifeline (IMO 6825842) remained off Malta yesterday, despite Italian infrastructure minister and 5-Star member Danino Toninelli stating last week that the 239 migrants who have been on board since June 21st would be taken into Italy, but that the vessel would then be impounded. Toninelli is responsible for the Italian coastguard.

However, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who leads the junior coalition partners The League, appears to have overruled Toninelli, and refused to permit Lifeline to dock in Italy.

The internal Italian deadlock appeared yesterday to have been solved by prime minister Giuseppe Conte, who said on TuesdayJune 26th that Malta would let Lifeline dock. He said that Malta’s prime minister Joseph Muscat told him about his decision in a phone call. Conte added that, after reaching Malta, the migrants would be divided up among those EU members who were willing to take them in. “Italy will do its part and welcome a portion of the migrants who are on board Lifeline in the hope that other European countries do the same,” he said.

Conte said the ship would then be impounded and its captain investigated over reports that he ignored instructions to let the Libyan coastguard pick up the migrants.

Malta had not confirmed this on Tuesday afternoon, but had issued a statement saying that it had been participating in discussions with Brussels to find a diplomatic solution that involved “the sharing of responsibility by a number of member states”. A French spokesman confirmed Conte’s assertion that the ship would be allowed to dock in Malta.

Meanwhile, the UN agencies for migration and refugees are to present the EU with a plan for “regional disembarkation platforms” around the Mediterranean, where the bloc could hold migrants and decide whether to admit them.

On June 24th the migrants on Lifeline  were supplied with water and food from Malta, while two other NGO vessels, Sea Eye and Sea Watch, assisted with blankets and medication.

Local elections in Italy at the weekend appeared to confirm opinion poll findings which show the League doubling its support since the March 4th election, putting it on par with its larger coalition partner 5-Star. Salvini flew to Libya on Monday for discussions on the migrant crisis. He wants the EU to do more to help Libya stop people making the trip across the Mediterranean in unsafe vessels. He also wants EU partners to change the rules governing asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean so that the EU shares out the burden of handling them. Under current EU rules the responsibility for handling boatloads of asylum seekers rests with the country where they first disembark.

Italy has taken in some 650,000 boat migrants since 2014.

Meanwhile, container ship Alexander Maersk (IMO 9164237) picked up 113 migrants from a boat off southern Italy early on Friday June 22nd, five of whom were later transferred ashore for medical reasons. The vessel with 108 still on board was permitted to dock in the southern port of Pozzallo in Sicily on Tuesday.

Alexander Maersk had received a request from the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) to change its course late on Thursday June 21st. The ship was on his way from Misurata to Malta at the time. She picked up the migrants early on Friday morning.

The Denmark-flagged vessel had lain south of Sicily on Pozzallo Anchorage, awaiting further instructions. Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen had called for action, demanding that Italy fulfil its obligations under international law. Denmark’s Immigration and Integration Minister Inger Støjberg had called Italy’s refusal to permit the ship to dock untenable and unreasonable. 1998-built, Denmark-flagged, 14,120 gt Alexander Maersk is owned and managed by Maersk Line AS of Copenhagen, Denmark. It is entered with Standard Club (Europe division) on behalf of Maersk Line AS.