On Wednesday, France and Italy were at differences about what would happen to an NGO ship carrying 234 migrants who had been saved in the Mediterranean. Paris referred to Rome’s refusal to let the ship dock as “unacceptable.”
It was the most recent instance of a dispute in Europe about where to land migrants who had been saved while trying to cross into the continent from North Africa. Italy has grown increasingly irritated at having to take in the majority of those saved.The Ocean Viking, a charity ship that has been sailing through Sicilian waters toward France after trying in vain to dock in Italy since late October, is at the centre of the dispute.
The ship, which is operated by the European humanitarian organisation SOS Mediterranee and is flying the Norwegian flag, has requested France to welcome it as it sails toward Corsica and maybe the French mainland.The director of SOS Med, Sophie Beau, claimed that 43 official requests had been made, but that there had been no responses. According to Beau, as of Wednesday morning, “there was still no formal response” from French officials.
French officials warned that the ship was in Italian seas and deemed the refusal to let her dock “unacceptable” despite claims by Italian leaders that France is prepared to receive the refugees.The Ocean Viking should “immediately disembark, at the nearest location of safety,” according to a directive from the European Commission in Brussels. It made notice of the “obvious and unequivocal” legal need to rescue shipwrecked mariners, but avoided mentioning Italy or France by name.
It stated that in order to prevent a humanitarian tragedy, “the situation onboard the vessel has reached a critical level and needs to be quickly addressed.”