ITALY fell out with its fellow European Union states Malta and the Netherlands today over the Lifeline rescue ship that picked up 226 refugees off the coast of Libya yesterday.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini initially said in a post on Facebook that the Lifeline and its sister ship the Seefuchs should “go to Holland,” as they were said to be flying under a Dutch flag and should not dock in Italy.
He followed this up by suggesting that it should dock in Malta since it had arrived in Maltese waters.
Diplomatic waters were further muddied when the Dutch delegation to the EU said in a tweet that the ships are not registered in the Netherlands and were not flying under its flag.
Italian Infrastructure Minister Danilo Toninelli claimed that the Lifeline had broken the law by taking the refugees, even though the Libyan coastguard had already intervened to rescue them.
He said Italy would seize both the Lifeline and the Seefuchs to determine their legal status, adding that his country would “once again save the migrants.”
The Mission Lifeline NGO posted an image on Twitter of a registration document purporting to show that both ships sail under the Dutch flag.
Its co-founder Axel Steier denied breaking any laws and defended his organisation’s actions.
“In this situation you can’t wait. If you have a rescue, you prevent people from dying, from drowning, and then you have to make the decisions. You can’t wait until someone has a port for you. You have to act immediately,” he insisted.
Leaders from a number of EU states, including Germany, France and Italy, will meet in Brussels on Sunday to discuss Europe’s refugee crisis.
A German government spokeswoman dampened expectations, however, portraying the get-together as more an opportunity to exchange views than the basis for formulating a joint declaration.
Rome insists that it will not sign up to any overall EU plan unless it makes helping Italy a priority.
The so-called Visegrad group, taking in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, refuses to discuss any plan and will boycott Sunday’s meeting.
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