Migrant Rescue Vessel Given Permission to Berth in Sicily

Image courtesy Sea-Watch

By The Maritime Executive 01-31-2019 05:40:51

Italian authorities have allowed the rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3 to dock in Catania, Sicily and offload 47 rescued maritime migrants who have been aboard for nearly two weeks. 

The disembarkation follows an agreement between Italy's populist government and six other EU states signed earlier this week. Germany, France, Portugal, Malta, Romania and Luxembourg have agreet to accept most of the 47 asylum-seekers under the terms of the one-time deal. 

Sea-Watch 3 had hoped to berth in Siracusa, but she was diverted to Catania, where the local prosecutor has frequently investigated NGO-operated rescue vessels in the past. Local police in Catania have boarded the Sea-Watch 3 to question crewmembers and have denied the right to conduct a crew change, according to operator Sea-Watch. The vessel remains in port while the inquiry continues. 

Matteo Salvini, the Italian interior minister and the leader of Italy's anti-immigration Lega party, has accused the crew of the Sea-Watch 3 of "criminality" for their role in rescuing the 47 maritime migrants. His ministry is considering charges against the crew for "favoring illegal immigration." 

"We are being threatened with a criminal investigation for saving people's lives at sea," said volunteer crewmember Brendan Woodhouse, a firefighter from the town of Matlock, England. 

Salvini is under investigation himself: prosecutors in Agrigento, Sicily, are contemplating potential charges of kidnapping against the interior minister after he prevented rescuees from disembarking an Italian coast guard vessel in Catania last year. A court ruled last week that Salvini should be tried; if the case proceeds and the minister is convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison. Salvini originally indicated that he would be proud to face trial, but in an op-ed published Tuesday, he suggested that Italy's senate should prevent the court from proceeding.