Migrants onboard NGO boats need swift rescue, Germany tells Italy

FILE PHOTO: Migrants wait to disembark from a Spanish coast guard vessel, in the port of Arguineguin

By Angelo Amante

ROME (Reuters) - Germany has urged Italy to help migrants who have been onboard a German-flagged NGO boat for more than a week, saying charity vessels operating in the Mediterranean play an important role in saving lives at sea.

Three ships run by charities, including Germany's SOS Humanity, have been at sea off Italy for more than a week, carrying almost 1,000 migrants. They said all their requests to dock have so far proved unsuccessful.

Giorgia Meloni, Italy's new rightist prime minister, said the flag nations of the charity ships in question should take care of the migrants currently stranded at sea, after her government threatened to ban them from entering its waters.

In an emailed statement seen by Reuters, the German embassy in Rome said there were currently 104 unaccompanied minors on the German-flagged ship Humanity 1.

"Many of them need medical care. We have asked the Italian government to provide help quickly," said the embassy statement, issued on Wednesday evening.

Earlier last week, Italy sent letters to the embassies of Germany and Norway saying the conduct of two NGO ships flying their flags was not in line with national security rules, border control and the fight against illegal immigration.

The German embassy replied saying its government believed "civil organisations" rescuing migrants at sea "make an important contribution to saving lives in the Mediterranean".

"Rescuing people in mortal danger is the most important thing," the German statement said.

Charity SOS Mediterranee, whose boat is currently carrying 234 people, said the weather was set to worsen at sea in the coming days and asked Greece, France or Spain to provide help as Malta and Italy had not responded to docking requests.

Italy's foreign ministry said it asked Germany to provide detailed information about conditions aboard the Humanity 1, and pledged to provide emergency assistance should it be necessary.

(Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Crispian Balmer, William Maclean)