Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has called for the arrest of the crew of an Italian charity ship that was escorted into the port of Lampedusa by police on Tuesday March 19th after rescuing 49 Africans in the Mediterranean.
A magistrate had ordered that the boat, the Mare Jonio, be seized as an investigation is launched into allegations of aiding and abetting human trafficking, reported Reuters, citing a judicial source.
The vessel picked up the migrants, including 12 minors, on Monday after their rubber boat started to sink in the central Mediterranean, some 42 miles off the coast of Libya.
The rescue ship immediately set sail for the nearby Italian island of Lampedusa, defying Salvini, who had ordered the closure of all ports to boats carrying rescued migrants.
The Mare Jonio was initially prevented from docking, but then the vessel was accompanied into port by police at nightfall as a storm approached.
The judicial source said the migrants would be allowed to disembark, while the boat would be impounded and the crew would face possible questioning.
Salvini wrote on Twitter. “We now have in Italy a government that defends the borders and enforces the law, especially against human traffickers. Those who make mistakes pay the price,” he said.
The Italian government has accused charity rescue boats of being complicit with people smugglers, who charge large sums to help migrants get to Europe. The NGOs deny the accusation.