German-flagged charity vessel refuses to leave Italian port

By Francesca Landini

MILAN (Reuters) -A German-flagged charity vessel refused to leave the Sicilian port of Catania on Sunday, after Italian authorities said not all the migrants it was carrying could disembark, the NGO responsible for the vessel said.

"The captain of the Humanity 1, who is legally responsible for the safety of all people on board, has refused the request to leave the port with the remaining 35 survivors on board," the German NGO said.

Earlier on Sunday, Rome said minors and people in need of urgent medical care, in total 144 of 179 passengers, could disembark from Humanity 1, which had been permitted to dock in Catania.

Humanity 1 and two other vessels - carrying between almost 1,000 migrants - had been at sea off Italy for more than a week awaiting permission to dock from the country's right-wing government that took office last month.

On Friday, Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said Humanity 1 and its remaining passengers would be sent out of territorial waters once those allowed to had disembarked.

The German NGO said that 35 migrants left onboard were in poor health and had fled "inhuman conditions" in Libya.

"This deprives them of both their right to freedom and their right to go ashore in a place of safety," Mirka Schaefer, advocacy officer of SOS Humanity, said in an emailed message.

A second charity vessel that had asked Rome for a safe port to disembark 572 migrants has just docked in Catania, the press officer for the Geo Barents ship told Reuters.

As in the case of Humanity 1, the Italian government has issued a decree to allow the Geo Barents to dock only to disembark people in the need of emergency assistance, government sources said on Sunday.

"Selective and partial disembark, as proposed by the Italian authorities, is not to be considered legal under maritime law conventions," said international NGO Medicins sans Frontieres, which runs Geo Barents ship.

(Reporting by Francesca Landini; editing by Barbara Lewis)