Italy probes NGO suspected of collecting money to take on migrants

Italy probes NGO suspected of collecting money to take on migrants
Italian authorities have launched an investigation into the non-governmental organisation Mediterranea Saving Humans related to the Maersk Etienne migrant rescue.

Specifically, the investigation is said to be looking into whether Mediterranea took money from Maersk Tankers to take over the migrants rescued at sea by the company’s tanker.

The NGO said on Monday that Ragusa’s public prosecutor’s office executed search warrants throughout Italy targeting homes of the organization’s members, its social centers, and the ship Mare Jonio.

The NGO is allegedly being suspected of profit-making schemes. However, the organization said the investigation and related raids were part of a smear campaign directed against rescuing migrants at sea and bringing them to the EU.

“The searches are meant to find “evidence” because the charges, despite thousands of hours of phone taps and surveillance, are, in reality, founded on speculation,” Mediterranea said.

In September 2020, the NGO took over rescued migrants from Maersk Etienne, a tanker owned and operated by Danish Maersk Tankers, ending a 38-day ordeal.

The crew of the Maersk Etienne rescued 27 persons who were in distress at sea at the request of Maltese authorities on August 5, 2020.

The company made numerous appeals to governments and organizations to disembark the rescued people as the ship was running out of supplies. However, for over a month no authority was willing to allow the ship to call port and disembark the affected people.

In September, the migrants were transferred to the ship Mare Jonio operated by the non-governmental organisation Mediterranea after the situation became unsustainable requiring humanitarian assistance. Shortly after, the migrants disembarked in Pozzallo, Sicily.

This event was the longest standoff in memory involving shipwrecked people who in theory, according to International Conventions, have the right to reach a safe port “promptly.”

“Months after the rescue operation Maersk Tankers met with representatives from Mediterranena to thank them for their humanitarian assistance. Following this meeting, we decided to make a contribution to Mediterranea to cover some of the costs they endured as a result of the operation. This was done in the amount of 125,000 euros and with the full support of Maersk Tankers’ management,” Maersk Tankers said in a statement.

The tanker owner and operator said that it had not been contacted by the authorities in connection with the investigation.

“But we are ready to assist, if approached. We continue to push for decisive political action to avoid a repeat of the Maersk Etienne incident,” the company said.