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Italy releases migrant rescue boat

August 1, 2023 at 10:31 am

The migrant rescue boat Louise Michel is back at sea [@MVLouiseMichel/Twitter]

The migrant rescue boat Louise Michel is back at sea after being impounded in the Italian port of Lampedusa in March.

Yesterday, the crew responded to a distress call by 41 people – including a baby – who were adrift in the Mediterranean Sea. Their boat had left the Tunisian port town of Sfax with a second boat which was rescued by the Italian coastguard, but this vessel was left drifting at sea.

Reports have made global headlines in recent weeks that hundreds of people are gathering in Sfax to escape across the Mediterranean in search of safety.

Tunisian authorities have been rounding up black African migrants, beating them and dumping them in the desert.

In February Tunisian President Kais Saied made a racist, inflammatory speech about black Africans in Tunisia and since then many have been attacked and forced out of the country.

READ: Rising death toll & unsettling alliances: Italy’s alarming response to migration crisis

According to the Louise Michel Twitter account, after six hours adrift the overcrowded iron boat started to fill with water and yet the Italian and Maltese authorities did not send help.

The Louise Michel has now taken the people on board to the port of Trapani on the west coast of Sicily.

Italian authorities impounded the rescue vessel for allegedly breaching Italian rules for rescue boats operated by NGOs.

In February, Italy passed a law which prevents ships from carrying out consecutive rescue operations instead they must sail to a port immediately after each rescue.

In June the German rescue ships Sea-Eye 4 and Mare Go were impounded by the Italian coastguard under this new legislation.

NGOs say the measures are designed to clamp down on arrivals as they increase the cost of rescues for ships who must now make multiple missions.

Under international law, these NGOs say, it is a duty to rescue distressed persons at sea.

The Louise Michel was financed by Banksy, with a crew made up of mainly European activists, and flies under the German flag.

The first quarter of 2023 has been the deadliest for migrants since 2017, according to the United Nations International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

A deal between the EU and Tunisia, which will see the EU give Tunisia significant aid in return for stopping migrants crossing the Med, has drawn widespread criticism for disregarding how badly migrants are treated there.