Italy on Friday impounded two rescue ships run by German charities for breaching tougher migration rules introduced by the country’s right-wing government, the Italian coast guard said.
The Mare*Go organisation said it disobeyed instructions to take 36 migrants it picked up on Thursday to the Sicilian port of Trapani, taking them instead to Lampedusa island, saving itself hours at sea.
The rescue ship is blocked for 20 days in Lampedusa, the NGO in a statement, adding it would also “likely face a fine” for breach of new legislation sponsored by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
The Italian coast guard confirmed it had impounded that vessel as well as a second ship, the Sea-Eye 4, which had docked in the coastal town of Ortona in eastern Italy, with 49 migrants on board.
The Sea-Eye 4 had picked up 17 people in the Libyan search and rescue zone, followed by a further 32 migrants in Italian waters, the coast guard said.
The Italian law, approved by parliament in February, requires charity-run ships to head to port immediately after a rescue, preventing them from carrying out multiple operations at sea.
Italian authorities have also started instructing ships to head to more distant ports, not just in Sicily but further up the Italian peninsula, in some cases hundreds of kilometres away.
Meloni said in December the clampdown on charity ships was needed to stop them from acting as “ferry boats” for migrants, going “back and forth with human traffickers to shuttle people from one country to the other”.
Her government’s new rules, however, have failed to curb sea migration inflows.
Around 50,400 landings have been recorded so far this year, up from around 19,700 in the same period of 2022, according to the interior ministry.