Captain of rescue ship with 35 migrants refuses to leave Italian port

The captain of a charity-operated migrant rescue ship refused Italian orders to leave a Sicilian port Sunday after authorities conducted a medical selection of the passengers and did not allow 35 to get off, acting under directives from Italy’s far-right-led government.

The Humanity 1 was ordered to vacate the port of Catania after disembarking 144 rescued migrants. They included women with children, more than 100 unaccompanied minors, and people with medical emergencies.

The captain refused to comply, “until all survivors rescued from distress at sea have been disembarked," SOS Humanity, the German charity that operates the ship said. The vessel remained moored at the port as of mid-afternoon.

Humanitarian groups and two Italian lawmakers who traveled to Sicily protested the selection process as both illegal and inhumane. The procedure was part of directives ushered in by new Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi as Italy again targets non-governmental organisations it has long accused of encouraging people trafficking in the central Mediterranean Sea.

“Free all the people, free them,'' Italian lawmaker Aboubakar Soumahoro said, in an emotional appeal directed at new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, calling her government's new policy “inhumane”.

Soumahoro added that the passengers have faced ”trauma, they have faced everything that we can define as prolonged suffering, a hell".

Italian authorities completed the process of identifying vulnerable migrants on the Humanity 1 overnight and asked the Geo Barents charity ship, which entered Italian waters with 572 rescued migrants, to proceed Sunday to Catania for the same vetting.

Two other boats run by non-governmental organisations remain at sea with no immediate change in status.