June 22 (UPI) — Italy will seize two migrant rescue ships, one carrying more than 200 people in the Mediterranean, citing its illegal flying of the Dutch flag.
Italian Infrastructure Minister Danilo Toninelli said the ships had “illegally” flown the Dutch flag and unlawfully took in migrants rescued off the coast of Libya.
Toninelli said Italy would seize both vessels, the Lifeline and the Seefuchs, to determine their legal status and would “once again save the migrants.” An investigation will determine the migrants’ legal status, the minister added.
“Human lives must be saved, but in terms of legality and security,” Toninelli said on Twitter.
The Lifeline is carrying 226 migrants.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini initially said the two ships should go to the Netherlands, as they were carrying Dutch flags. Salvini added the migrants would “only see Italy on a postcard.”
The Dutch delegation to the European Union said the ships were not registered in the Netherlands and not flying under its flag. Mission Lifeline, however, later posted an image on Twitter of a registration document it says proves the ships sail under the Dutch flag.
Salvini later tweeted the “outlaw” ships must be seized in order to “never again traffic at sea.”
The decision to seize the ships comes after Italy’s new populist government refused earlier this month to take in the Aquarius rescue ship, carrying some 630 migrants, sparking an EU migration row.
The immigrants became stranded at sea for days after both Italy and Malta refused to let the Aquarius dock.
Salvini, an anti-immigration politician, said it was “time to say no” to migrants, while French President Emmanuel Macron condemned Italy’s refusal to take in the migrants as “playing politics.”