Sea-Watch stand off: Situation 'incredibly tense', captain warns

Warning comes as deal to redistribute dozens on board ship to European Union countries appears in the making.

    Sea-Watch stand off: Situation 'incredibly tense', captain warns
    Sea-Watch 3 rescue ship is pictured as it remains blocked one mile outside the port of Lampedusa, Italy [Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters]

    Dozens of stranded people on board a rescue ship that is prevented by Italy from docking on its shores are getting increasingly "frustrated", the vessel's captain has said, warning of an "incredibly tense" situation.

    The Dutch-flagged Sea-Watch 3, operated by German charity Sea-Watch, has been at sea for more than two weeks. On Wednesday, it defied Rome's orders not to enter Italian territorial waters, but is being refused entry at the port of Lampedusa island amid a new standoff between Italy and the charity.

    "At the moment the situation is incredibly tense, getting worse and worse," Carola Rackete, captain of the Dutch-flagged Sea-Watch 3, told journalists in Rome on Friday via a live video-link from the ship.

    "It's very difficult for them all psychologically," she said, referring to the 40 people on the ship. "The concern about self-harm is very, very strong," added Rackete, who warned that those rescued were victims of trauma and were being hit hard by the uncertainty over their fate.

    Her comments came as a deal to redistribute the people appeared in the making, potentially ending the bitter standoff.

    "I have news that three [or] four countries would be available for redistribution [sic]," Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Friday on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan.

    According to Giorgia Linardi, the spokeswoman for the German charity, Germany, France, Luxembourg and Portugal are the four European Union nations which have offered to take in the people picked up at sea by Sea-Watch 3.

    Germany already said on Thursday it could welcome some people as part of a joint effort with other EU nations.

    In Brussels, European Commission spokesman Natasha Bertaud said there was "some positive news from member states," but added it was too early to provide details, as "intense contacts [were] still going on with many member states."

    Evacuations

    Sea-Watch 3 originally picked up 53 people drifting in an inflatable raft off the coast of Libya on June 12.

    Since then, 13 migrants have been evacuated and brought to Lampedusa on medical or humanitarian grounds, in three separate operations.

    The most recent evacuation took place overnight, involving a 21-year-old man who was in serious pain and his 11-year-old brother, Linardi said, in a briefing with foreign journalists in Italy's capital, Rome. The man was carried out in a stretcher.

    Migrants lie on board the rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 as it remains blocked one mile outside the port of Lampedusa
    People lie on board the rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 as it remains blocked Lampedusa port [Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters]

    Matteo Salvini, Italy's interior minister and the head of the far-right League party, has said the people can only disembark if they head straight to the Netherlands - where the Sea-Watch 3 is registered - or to Germany.

    Five Italian left-wing MPs spent the night onboard the ship in a gesture of solidarity.

    "We'll remain on board until all of the migrants have disembarked," said Graziano Delrio, who was the minister in charge of the Italian coastguard between 2015 and 2018.

    Members of Italian Parliament Riccardo Magi, Nicola Fratoianni, Graziano Delrio, Matteo Orfini and the rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete hold a news conference on board of Sea-watch 3
    Members of Italian Parliament Riccardo Magi, Nicola Fratoianni, Graziano Delrio, Matteo Orfini and the rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete hold a news conference on board the ship [Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters]

    Salvini has called for the Sea-Watch 3 to be seized and its crew to be arrested for aiding and abetting irregular immigration.

    A prosecutor in Sicily, southern Italy, said on Friday that Rackete had been put under investigation as a formality, under recently beefed-up laws that seek to prevent rescue ships from disembarking migrants in the country.

    Rackete, 31, has become a symbol of defiance and a left-wing hero in Italy for challenging Salvini's "closed-ports" policy.

    Asked about the investigation, Rackete said she had not been advised of that and she could not comment on "rumours".

    Salvini says Rackete and her Sea-Watch crew are "pirates" who are helping criminal gangs to smuggle from African countries into Europe.

    Asked about the Italian minister's criticism, Rackete responded sharply: "To be honest I haven't read the comments, I really don't have time. I have 40 people to take care of ... Mister Salvini might just get in line."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies