Italy’s anti-migrant interior minister Matteo Salvini on Friday welcomed the end of charity ship Aquarius’s search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, saying it spelled “fewer crossings, fewer landings and fewer deaths”.
‘Fewer crossings, fewer landings and fewer deaths. That’s good,” Salvini tweeted.
Doctors without Borders (MSF), one of two NGOs that operated the Aquarius announced late on Thursday that the ship, which has saved tens of thousands of migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean, had been forced to end its operations.
Calling it “a dark day”, the medical charity blamed “sustained attacks on search and rescue by European states”.
“Sustained attacks on search and rescue by European states will mean more deaths at sea, and more needless deaths that will go unwitnessed,” MSF tweeted.
The Aquarius has been stranded in Marseilles’ port since September when Panama revoked its registration, allegedly following intense political pressure from Italy.
A de-flagged vessel cannot legally set sail and Italy has kept up the pressure on MSF and the Sos Mediterranee charity which also operates the Acquarius. Last month, Italian prosecutors called for the seizure of the Aquarius over the alleged dumping of potentially toxic medical waste in its ports, a moved slammed by MSF as “unfounded and sinister”.
There has been a sharp drop in boat migrant arrivals to Italy this year amid moves to dismantle smuggling networks in Libya and increase coastguard patrols, but the death-rate on the Mediterranean crossings has jumped to one in five.
Over 2,000 people have died or gone missing making crossings this year, compared to more than 3,000 last year, according to the United Nations migration agency (IOM).