Italy requests Malta take migrant-rescue ship Lifeline

Vessel will be impounded otherwise says Minister Toninelli

(ANSA) - Rome, June 22 - The Italian port authority on Friday made a formal request for Malta to allow the NGO-run migrant-rescue ship Lifeline to dock at a port on the Mediterranean island, government sources said. The Dutch-flagged ship, run by German NGO Mission Lifeline, may be set to be at the centre of an international wrangle like that which involved another NGO-run migrant-rescue vessel, the Aquarius, which ended up docking in Valencia last week after Italy and Malta refused it access to ports.
    Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli on Thursday accused the Lifeline of "operating in Libyan waters outside all rules, outside international law" after it took on 224 asylum seekers.
    He called on Malta to meet Italy's request and warned that the vessel would be impounded if it does not go to Malta. "If the Lifeline NGO ship does not go to the port of Malta, which it should and must do out of a sense of humanity and out of respect for the law of the sea, it will be sequestered at once," Toninelli told Tgcom24. "As an Italian citizen, as the minister of infrastructure and transport, and as a European citizen, I would be shocked at the inhumanity of Malta if it did not receive the ship.
    "Malta is currently the nearest and safest port".
    Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said Thursday that the Lifeline should go to the Netherlands.
    The Netherlands denied reports that the Lifeline and another NGO-run migrant-rescue ship, the Seefuchs, are sailing under Dutch flags. However, on Friday Mission Lifeline said in a tweet that its ship has been registered in the Netherlands since September 2017, attaching a photograph of a registration document. It also said Thursday's rescue operation took place in international waters. Salvini said for "the safety of the crew and passengers" Italy had asked Malta to open its ports. "It is clear that the ship will then have to be impounded and the crew members arrested. No more trafficking by sea," he added. Salvini, who is also deputy premier and League leader, has spearheaded the tough stance on migrants and NGOs operating humanitarian missions in the Mediterranean of the new League/5-Star Movement (M5S) government.