Italian Police to Investigate Migrant Transport Vessel

A Sea Watch 3 crew member marks with spray paint a rubber boat that the NGO destroyed after rescuing 47 migrants that were onboard, during a rescue operation by the Dutch-flagged vessel (Rear) off Libya's coasts on January 19, 2019. - The German charity group Sea Watch said on January …

Populist Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has announced that law enforcement will be conducting an investigation into the Sea Watch migrant transport NGO whose vessel is moored off the coast of Syracuse with 47 migrants on board.

The Italian authorities are said to be investigating whether or not the German-based NGO vessel Sea Watch-3 has been complying with international regulations while it remains unable to access Italian ports, Il Giornale reports.

“Law enforcement is underway to look at the correct or incorrect behaviour of this NGO which seeks to impose its own legislation on a country like Italy, which instead has rules that must be respected,” Salvini said.

The investigators are said to be there in order to determine the nature of the operation, which took place in the search and rescue zone (SAR) off the coast of Libya.

Despite repeated requests from the NGO (non-governmental organisation), Salvini has remained firm on his policy of not allowing migrant transport vessels to dock in Italian ports.

Instead, the Italian Foreign Ministry wrote a letter to the Dutch government, as the Sea Watch-3 flies under the Dutch flag, and requested that it take the 47 migrants instead.

The letter also requested that the Dutch government hand over information on the NGO’s background, “with particular reference to compliance with the legislation of the flag state and its organisation and activities,” along with any information on  “related vessels and crew.”

The move is not the first time Italy has contacted the countries under whose flag an NGO vessel operates. Last year, Italy contacted the British government as a migrant vessel had been using the flag of Gibraltar for migrant transport operations. Shortly after the Italian request, the flag was stripped from the vessel.

Deputy prime minister and leader of the Five Star Movement Luigi Di Maio has also requested a meeting with the Dutch ambassador as soon as possible to seek a Dutch answer to the Foreign Ministry’s letter.

“Will they, together with us, ask Sea Watch-3 to go to Marseilles or have them disembarked in Rotterdam? We are willing to cooperate fully, but our line on NGOs does not change,” he said.

Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter at @TomlinsonCJ or email at ctomlinson(at)


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