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Citing COVID-19, Italy Declares its Own Ports Unsafe for Rescuees

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By The Maritime Executive 04-08-2020 09:52:43

The Italian government has declared its own ports unsafe for disembarking rescued seafarers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, effectively barring access to migrant rescue NGO vessels. 

Italy has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, which has overwhelmed the health care system in the Lombardy region and elsewhere. The nation had 140,000 confirmed cases and nearly 18,000 deaths as of Wednesday - an unusually high fatality rate relative to other countries.

The decree on port access was issued Tuesday and is effective for the rest of the public health emergency. “Due to the outbreak of coronavirus, Italian ports cannot be classified as ‘safe places’ for the landing of people rescued from boats flying a foreign flag," wrote Italy's ministers of health, foreign affairs and infrastructure in a joint decision. "Rescued people must be guaranteed an absence of any threat to their lives." 

In an unusual reversal, the maritime rescue organization Sea-Eye accepted Italy's decision and said that it would appeal to other nations for port access. “We respect the national fate of all European countries fighting against this pandemic and especially the situation facing Italy,” said Sea-Eye mission manager Jan Ribbeck.

Sea-Eye's vessel, the German-flagged Alan Kurdi, is presently waiting for a port of refuge in the central Mediterranean with 150 rescuees on board. The organization has reached out to the German government with a request to accommodate them; in response, Germany's Federal Interior Ministry has asked the organization to voluntarily cease operations due to the COVID-19 crisis in Europe.