Govt tension subsides after migrant rescue off Libya

July 11, 2018

The rescue off Libya by a private Italian vessel of 67 asylum seekers, who were subsequently transferred to an Italian Coast Guard ship, has irked Interior Minister and Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini, causing fresh tension in the Italian government.
The interior ministry's position is that the intervention of the Vos Thalassa, a tug linked to an oil rig, anticipated that of the Libyan coast guard, sources said.
Salvini took up the matter with Premier Giuseppe Conte, Labour and Industry Minister and Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio and Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, sources said.
'The Italian Coast Guard cannot replace the Libyan one, above all, if the African colleagues have moved into action,' Salvini said, according to the sources.
League leader Salvini has spearheaded the hardline stance on migrants of the new coalition government that has seen NGO-run migrant rescue ships denied access to Italian ports. Toninelli, whose ministry is in charge of Italy's ports and the Coast Guard, said via Twitter the Italian Coast Guard intervened because the migrants were 'endangering the lives of the crew' of the Vos Thalassa, and so were transferred to the coast guard's Diciotti vessel.
He added that a investigation had been launched so that the migrants who caused the trouble could be punished. A Ghanaian man and a Sudanese man have been identified as the main alleged 'troublemakers' among the migrants, the interior ministry said Tuesday.
The top nationality represented among the migrants was Pakistani (27) followed by Sudanese (12) and Libyans (10).
Toninelli said later that 'everything had been cleared up' with Salvini. 'I heard from Salvini this morning and we cleared things up,' said Toninelli. 'He thought we were dealing with the umpteenth rescue at sea, and I explained to him that it was an intervention for public order because there had been death threats to the crew'.
Speaking after a meeting with Premier Giuseppe Conte, Toninelli said 'there was total agreement'.
Toninelli said the coast guard vessel Diciotti would arrive in an Italian port 'within 10-15 hours, it depends on the conditions at sea'.
'We think there will be some arrests for those who threatened crew members with death,' he said.
The interior ministry said no Italian port had yet been indicated for the Diciotti to dock at. Government sources said there was no rift over migrants in the executive. There is an awareness, they said, that it is in the nature of the coalition to have political leaders that carry forward principles and ministers who must then take action. A sort of division of roles that does not worry Premier Giuseppe Conte in the slightest.

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