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Aid group's rescue ship held 'indefinitely' in Italy

By AFP - Jul 13,2023 - Last updated at Jul 13,2023


MARSEILLE — Aid group SOS Mediteranee on Thursday accused Italy of hampering its work after the authorities there ordered its migrant rescue ship Ocean Viking held "for an indefinite period" in port.

Officials had cited "a very small number of technical and administrative deficiencies," said the aid group.

The ship's immobilisation in the port of Citavecchia, north of Rome, "prevents us from carrying out rescue operations" for migrants in the Mediterranean, the NGO's co-founder and director Sophie Beau told AFP.

The authorities were creating a "very harmful" environment for civil society groups looking to aid migrants, she added.

Italy's government has since last year been led by far-right Prime Minister Georgia Meloni, whose coalition — also including Matteo Salvini of the anti-Migrant League Party — has cracked down on help for migrants.

After disembarking 57 people rescued off the Libyan coast on July 7, Ocean Viking was subject to a seven-hour inspection by port authorities on July 11, Marseille-based SOS Mediterranee said.

One of the “deficiencies” turned up by the examiners “requires deeper investigation involving different players in the certification process and the shipbuilder” which will take time, the group added.


‘Enormous need’ 


The Italian coastguard did not immediately respond to AFP’s questions about the inspection. But Beau said that the problem was related to the Ocean Viking’s 14 life rafts.

“The inspectors asked us whether there were 14 qualified people to deploy the rafts in case the ship had to be abandoned,” she explained.

“So far, we have never been asked to have so many people,” Beau added, calling the requirement “a very restrictive interpretation of the SOLAS [Safety Of Life At Sea] Convention” — an international agreement on construction, outfitting and operation of civilian ships.

“We don’t understand why this point had never been raised at the inspections carried out until now,” she said, citing seven over the past four years alone.

“We have faced really extremely frequent inspections, extremely zealous, redundant and repetitive,” Beau added.

While the Ocean Viking is stuck in port, “there is an enormous need for rescue provision, a shocking lack of ships in the zone” where migrants cross the central Mediterranean, she said.

Ocean Viking points to rising numbers of deaths among migrants attempting the crossing to EU territory since the start of 2023.

On Monday, the aid group said Libyan coast guards had fired live ammunition close to the Ocean Viking during a July 7 rescue operation.

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