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article imageNew civilian migrant rescue ship heads for Libyan waters

By Fanny CARRIER (AFP)     Oct 4, 2018 in World

A new migrant rescue ship was headed for the waters off Libya on Thursday after similar vessels were prevented from trying to rescue people seeking to make the perilous journey to Europe.

"The #MareJonio is on its way!" German NGO Sea-Watch tweeted.

"In cooperation with #Mediterranea we are back at sea, to keep a sharp lookout and to challenge the European policy of letting people drown."

The announcement came on the same day that the Aquarius rescue ship sailed into Marseille harbour and an uncertain fate after Panama pulled its flag, meaning it cannot leave port without a new flag.

The Mare Jonio is a tug flying the Italian flag that left Augusta in Sicily on Wednesday evening, headed for international waters to the south, maritime tracking websites said.

The 37-metre (121 foot) vessel -- around half the length of the Aquarius -- is not intended to rescue migrants and bring them to a safe port but to spot migrant-carrying boats that are in distress.

The Mediterranea collective of aid groups and associations bought and refitted the tug, they told journalists in Rome.

It will provide a civilian presence in an area where they say the Libyan coastguard and international military vessels are failing to rescue people, despite several shipwrecks in September.

Those operating the boat, which is also carrying Italian writers and politicians, want to "conquer fear and distrust with solidarity and humanity," said Ada Talarico of the Mediterranea collective.

"We want to save ourselves from a present and future of hatred and intolerance," she said.

- 'Moral disobedience' -

Mediterranea said that the boat's mission was motivated by "moral disobedience and civil obedience".

The Mare Jonio will be accompanied by a smaller boat carrying members of the associations and journalists, and will coordinate with Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms' Astral sailboat, which left Spain a few days ago on a similar mission.

The collective borrowed money from the Banca Etica with the associations and left-wing politicians as guarantors. The collective has launched a crowdfunding appeal to repay the current budget of around 700,000 euros.

The Astral was off the coast of Lampedusa on Wednesday to commemorate the fifth anniversary of a shipwreck there in which 366 migrants died in 2013.

The disaster pushed Italy to launch its Mare Nostrum military operation to rescue migrants making the perilous journey from North Africa to Europe.

Since then European Union and NGO boats have joined in, although most of the aid group boats have now stopped work, some because of what they say are trumped-up administrative charges.

The International Organisation for Migration says that around 15,000 migrants have drowned in the central Mediterranean since the Lampedusa disaster.

During the same period Italy has received around 600,000 migrants on its coast, while other European nations have closed their borders.

Italy's former centre-left government tried to stem the flow of migrants by working with the Libyan authorities and limiting the NGO effort.

Anti-immigrant Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who came to power as part of a populist government in June, has since then closed Italian ports to civilian and military boats that have rescued migrants, saying Italy bears an unfair share of the migrant burden.

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