A vessel containing rescued migrants has been stuck at the port of Catania, without authorisation to disembark, since Tuesday. After 48 hours of docking, prosecutors opened an investigation into the illegal detention of those on board and the European Commission has called an emergency meeting today.

The Italian coast guard ship, Diciotti, rescued 190 people on the 15 August and remained at sea until 21 August, 13 of those rescued were evacuated for emergency medical treatment whilst at sea. The ship was initially prevented from docking as the Italian government claimed Malta should take responsibility since the rescue took place within their search and rescue zone. It was finally allowed to dock at the Sicilian port of Catania but people on board were not permitted to disembark.

Interior minister Matteo Salvini said that European countries must commit to resettle the rescued people “Or we will be forced to do what will definitely break up the smugglers’ business – that is to take the rescued people back to Libya.” The European Commission had called an emergency meeting to discuss migration today, meanwhile Matteo Salvini has suggested he could hand in his resignation over the dispute.

An investigation conducted by the prosecutor of the city of Agrigento was launched on 22 August. If the magistrates launch a judicial proceeding, Matteo Salvini will likely be under investigation, being the person culpable for the disembarkation ban. Following the prosecutors visit, the 29 minors on board were permitted to disembark leaving 148 still on the ship.

Numerous similar incidents have been occurring since June this year, as the Italian and Maltese governments deny docking and disembarkation access to boats carrying rescued migrants. The EU Observer reported that the first of such stalemates, which led to the Aquarius ultimately docking and disembarking in Valencia, cost €200,000 in EU funds for Italy. Just last week the Aquarius, a designated SAR vessel operated by SOS MEDITERRANEE and MSF, was at sea for five days with 141 rescued people on board before finally being allowed to disembark in Malta after five European countries offered to accept some of those on board.

According to the latest data from IOM, the UN Migration Agency, 19,302 people have arrived by sea in Italy so far this year, this compares with 97,462 arrivals in the same period of 2017.


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Photo (CC) Fabien LE JEUNE, June 2015