Aid ships blocked by the zeal of the Italian Coast Guard

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On Saturday July 25, a ship in distress with 108 migrants on board, which had left the Libyan coast a few hours earlier, was reported by the Moonbird, the surveillance plane of the humanitarian NGO Seawatch, then picked up by a ship merchant flying the Italian flag, the Cosmo. Once brought to safety, the survivors were taken to the port of Pozzalo, at the southern end of Sicily, which was chosen as the disembarkation point. There, they were all placed in solitary confinement and subjected to serological tests, due to the health crisis. Then the crew was cleared to leave.

The operation was completed within hours. A few days earlier, theOcean-Viking, a humanitarian ship chartered by the NGO SOS-Méditerranée, had much less luck. On July 7, the boat was authorized to disembark 180 migrants rescued at sea in another port in southern Sicily, that of Porto Empedocle. There, the castaways were transferred to a ferry and then placed in isolation, while the Italian authorities asked the crew to anchor offshore, to observe a quarantine of fourteen days. On July 21, this measure was lifted, but a few hours later theOcean-Viking was immobilized again, due to several “Technical and operational irregularities” observed by the Italian Coast Guard during an on-board inspection. Which ones? After a few hours of hesitation and in the absence of any official communication from the Coast Guard, the reasons for this detention finally appeared in all their absurdity: according to the Italian authorities, theOcean-Viking, when it arrived in Sicily, had more “passengers” on board than it can theoretically accommodate.

“Degeneration of maritime culture”

An accusation that made Admiral Vittorio Alessandro, former national spokesperson for the Italian Coast Guard, jump. In front of Radio Radicale’s microphone, he reaffirmed the intangible principles governing rescue operations at sea: “When the Coast Guard Co-ordination Center (MRCC) asks a ship in the Sicily Canal to go to a boat in distress, it does not ask how many people it can accommodate on board”, he recalled, then stressing that“To assimilate a castaway to a passenger is an unbearable degeneration of maritime culture”. “Inspections are always welcome, added the retired admiral. But it is no accident that they are only triggered after the rescue operations and target only NGO ships. “

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