Italian captain under investigation for rescuing 41 shipwrecked migrants
A charity rescue vessel has been impounded and the captain is under investigation after he defied Italian authorities and brought 41 shipwrecked migrants into the Sicilian port of Lampedusa late on Saturday. It is the second boat in a week to challenge the far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini’s determination to close Italian ports to migrants and Italy was facing renewed pressure from Germany to open its doors to asylum seekers. Mediterranea’s Italian-flagged Alex was met by police on the quay and migrants were allowed to disembark in the latest setback for Mr Salvini’s hardline immigration stance. “I do not authorise any landing for those who couldn’t care less about Italian laws and who help the people smugglers,” the populist deputy prime minister tweeted. On Sunday Mr Salvini accused the NGO of lying about the necessity to rescue the migrants saying that “their rubber dinghy had no problems”. “I would like you to be in front of a rubber dinghy with 50 people with children, including several very small ones, and say ‘There are no problems’,” said Alessandra Sciurba, Mediterranea spokeswoman, told the media. “How can anyone be so cynical and cruel to make political propaganda?” After the migrants disembarked, customs police from the Guardia di Finanza searched the vessel and are expected to report to local prosecutors. The Italian capitain, Tommaso Stella, could face charges for aiding illegal immigration. “We are absolutely calm because we are convinced that we operated correctly,” said Mediterranea head of mission and Italian MP, Erasmo Palazzotto. Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini gestures as he speaks Credit: Reuters Meanwhile Mr Salvini was facing renewed pressure from Germany as the country’s interior minister, Horst Seehofer, called for Italy to reopen its ports to rescue vessels carrying migrants. “Absolutely not,” was Mr Salvini’s reply in a statement. “Instead we are asking the Merkel government to remove the German flag from ships that help traffickers and people smugglers and to repatriate their citizens who ignore Italian laws.” German captain, Carola Rackete, was arrested and later released last week for defying authorities and docking the SeaWatch3 vessel with 4o migrants aboard in Lampedusa. She will return to court on Tuesday. Salvini last month issued a decree that could see fines of up to €50,000 imposed on the captain, owner and operator of a vessel “entering Italian territorial waters without authorisation”. After the Alex reached port, Salvini said that he would raise the maximum fine to 1 million euros. The ‘Alan Kurdi’, a search-and-rescue ship run by the German NGO, Sea Watch, had also been engaged in a standoff with the Italian government and changed route. On Sunday it was heading to Malta with 65 migrants on board but the Maltese government has not yet decided whether it will allow the vessel to dock there. Pope Francis is due to hold a mass for migrants and refugees at St. Peter’s Basilica on Monday to mark the sixth anniversary of his visit to Lampedusa. During his weekly audience at the Vatican on Sunday he called for the faithful to pray for the migrants killed and injured in last week’s bombing of a detention centre in Libya. But most Italians appeart to support Mr Salvini’s uncompromising approach. A poll published in the Italian daily, Corriere Della Sera, on Saturday showed 59 percent of Italians approved of Mr Salvini shutting Italy's ports to NGO vessels.
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