Ocean Viking - Fabio Peonia / AP / SIPA

The humanitarian ship Ocean Viking, chartered by the NGO SOS Méditerranée, was immobilized on Wednesday by the Italian coast guard because of "technical irregularities", we learned from concordant sources. On July 7, the ambulance boat was authorized to disembark in Porto Empedocle (Sicily) 180 migrants that it had rescued at sea, transferred to a ferry to observe two weeks of quarantine before their reception ashore.

The ship, which was due to leave for Marseille, its home port, had been ordered to anchor off the Sicilian port for around fourteen days. This Tuesday, the Italian authorities lifted the quarantine, but as of Wednesday, the ship was immobilized. According to a statement from the Italian Coast Guard, an inspection revealed "several technical and operational irregularities".

“Administrative harassment”

These unspecified shortcomings are "likely to compromise not only the safety of the ship and the crew but also of the people who have been and who could be recovered on board". The press release also mentions “violations of the regulations aimed at protecting the marine environment”, and the vessel has since been subject to an “administrative detention” measure until the irregularities are corrected.

A spokesperson for the NGO confirmed that the Ocean Viking was "detained in Porto Empedocle following a check by the Italian Coast Guard". A similar measure targeted another NGO ship rescuing migrants at sea, the Sea Watch. In a press release, the NGO then denounced the “administrative harassment” of which it claims to be a victim, intended to “prevent the rescue of NGO ships”.

Salvini was expected on Lampedusa

"For the past three months, the same argument on security has been used by the Italian authorities to immobilize four NGO ships," said Frédéric Penard, director of operations of SOS Méditerranée, in this press release. According to the Italian press agency Ansa, Italian customs officials on Wednesday rescued 90 migrants drifting on a boat in difficulty off the island of Lampedusa, south of Sicily, the European territory closest to the Libyan coast.

After a long interruption due in particular to the new coronavirus pandemic, the return to sea of ​​the Ocean Viking took place against a backdrop of a strong resumption of crossings of the central Mediterranean. Italy fears the arrival of the largest contingent of humanitarian ships. The leader of the League (far right), Matteo Salvini, was expected this Thursday on Lampedusa where several hundred migrants have arrived in recent weeks.


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