In break with past, Rome lets charity ship head to Italian port

Reuters
Lampedusa, Italy Published: Sep 14, 2019, 05:51 PM(IST)

File photo: Photograph:( Reuters )

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The Ocean Viking, run by French charities SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), said on Twitter it had received the green light to sail to Lampedusa, six days after it carried out its first rescue off the coast of Libya.

Italy's new government allowed a French charity ship to head to the island of Lampedusa on Saturday and bring ashore some 82 migrants, reversing the uncompromising, closed-door policy of the previous administration.

The Ocean Viking, run by French charities SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), said on Twitter it had received the green light to sail to Lampedusa, six days after it carried out its first rescue off the coast of Libya.

"The Italian authorities have just offered Ocean Viking a place of safety," MSF said. Local officials confirmed the news.

Italy's government formally took office on Tuesday, promising a new approach to migration following the hardline clampdown on rescue ships introduced by the former interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who heads the far-right League.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Thursday that "several EU countries" had agreed to take in the Africans aboard the Ocean Viking, but did not give further details and did not immediately let Ocean Viking enter Italian waters.

"We needed a bit of time, but Ocean Viking has finally been assigned a safe port. Small signs of discontinuity," said Matteo Orfini, a senior member of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) which has replaced the League within the ruling coalition.

Salvini's tough line on immigration fuelled the popularity of his League party, which pulled out of its coalition with the 5-Star Movement last month in a vain attempt to trigger new elections.

During his 14 months at the interior ministry, he introduced new security decrees barring rescue ships from entering Italian waters, saying Italy had borne too much responsibility for handling African migration to Europe.

Ships that defied the decrees risked being impounded and were threatened with fines of up to a million euros ($1.1 million).

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