The Italian government has declared its own port unsafe to land sailors rescued due to the COVID-19 pandemic, effectively blocking access to migrant rescue NGO ships.
Italy was devastated by the pandemic, which had flooded the health care system in the Lombardy region and elsewhere. The country has 140,000 confirmed cases and nearly 18,000 deaths on Wednesday – an unusually high death rate compared to other countries.
The decision on port access was issued on Tuesday and applies to all public health emergencies. “Because of the outbreak of the coronavirus, Italian ports cannot be classified as a ‘safe place’ for landing people rescued from ships flying the foreign flag,” the Italian minister of health, foreign affairs and infrastructure said in a joint decision. “People who are saved must be guaranteed no threats to their lives.”
In an unusual reversal, the Sea-Eye maritime rescue organization accepted Italy’s decision and said it would attract other countries to access the port. “We respect the national fate of all European countries which are fighting against this pandemic and especially the situation facing Italy,” said Sea-Eye mission manager Jan Ribbeck.
Sea-Eye ships, German flagged Alan Kurdi, currently waiting for a port of protection in the central Mediterranean with 150 rescuers in it. The organization has reached the German government with requests to accommodate them; in response, the German Federal Ministry of the Interior has asked the organization to voluntarily stop operations due to the COVID-19 crisis in Europe.