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Europe

Italy blocks ferry fleeing Libya

Video by Josephine MCKENNA

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2011-03-15

Italian authorities have prevented a ferry carrying more than 1,800 people, mostly Moroccan nationals fleeing Libya, from docking in Sicily amid fears of a giant wave of migration towards Italian shores.

AFP - Italy on Tuesday blocked a ferry loaded with more than 1,800 Africans fleeing Libya from docking in Sicily amid immigration fears as the EU urged the authorities to check whether refugees could be on board.           

"They have asked to come into port to refuel. We have notified them of an entry ban ordered by the (interior) ministry," Antonio Giummo, an Italian navy official at the port of Augusta in eastern Sicily, told AFP.
             
"The ship is currently off our coastline waiting in international waters," he said.
             

A European Commission spokesman, Marcin Grabiec, told reporters: "We are following the situation closely and we remind European Union member states to verify with great attention if refugees could be on board the ferry."

             
Italian media reported that the Moroccan-owned ferry, the Mistral Express, had come from Tripoli and was carrying 1,715 Moroccan nationals, 39 Libyans and 82 others from Algeria, Egypt, Mali, Mauritania, Syria, Sudan and Tunisia.
             
The reports said the interior ministry would not let the ship dock until it had verified exactly who was on board, adding that the ferry's captain had made a request to refuel in Sicily before travelling on to Morocco.
             
Contacted by AFP, the Italian defence, foreign and interior ministries would not immediately respond to questions about the vessel.
             
Moroccan officials meanwhile said there was an "administrative problem".
             
"We are working on the administrative procedure with our Italian counterparts to grant exceptional authorisation. It's an administrative problem," Morocco's ambassador to Rome, Hassan Abouyoub, said on Radio-Plus.
             
A source at the Moroccan foreign ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP: "It's a simple administrative question."
             
The Italian government has repeatedly warned that the ongoing strife in Libya could create a giant wave of migration towards Italian shores.
             
Thousands of mainly Tunisian undocumented migrants have landed on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa in recent weeks.
             
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, a favourite in France's presidential election next year, flew to Lampedusa on Monday for a controversial visit during which she told immigrants they were not welcome in Europe.
             
"Border controls need to be restored," Le Pen told reporters Tuesday.
             
Lampedusa port officials said that 21 boats carrying more than 1,600 migrants have arrived on the island from Tunisian shores in the past 24 hours, adding that there had been "several rescue operations."
             
An Italian warship, the Spica, rescued 129 migrants from one boat that was stranded in rough weather in an operation lasting three hours.
             
"We arrived at two in the morning. The boat was not moving. Its engine was probably broken down," the Spica's commander, Francesco Fagnani, told AFP.
             
"It was a situation in which we had to intervene. It was a 15-metre boat with 129 people. A patrol boat ferried the people to us," he said.
             
Italy's coastguard said five migrants who arrived in the night had told the authorities they were rescued by another migrant boat from a vessel that capsized shortly after leaving Tunisia with 40 people on board.
             
The other 35 people who were on the boat are missing, the migrants said.
             
In Tunisia, neither the police nor the army were able to confirm the incident, but one member of the emergency services in the Tunisian port of Zarzis said a navy vessel had been sent to the suspected accident zone.
             
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva said more than 10,000 Tunisians have arrived in Lampedusa since the ouster of Tunisian president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in a revolution on January 14.

 

Date created : 2011-03-15

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