Italian authorities have impounded a vessel operated by a Spanish charity, the group said on Saturday, after it carried out multiple rescues of migrants stranded in the Mediterranean.
The Open Arms group said in a statement it had completed three rescues on Saturday picking up 176 people at sea, which included more than 90 unaccompanied minors. The boat docked on Wednesday in the central Italian port of Carrara to disembark the migrants.
The vessel was placed under detention for 20 days after the authorities questioned the captain and the head of mission over what happened, Open Arms said, adding they expected to receive a fine worth between 3,000 and 10,000 euros ($3,155-$10,519).
A spokesperson for the group told Reuters the sanctions were due to an alleged breach of rules requiring charity-run ships to sail to port immediately after a rescue, preventing them from organising multiple operations at sea.
Temporary seizure orders had already been imposed on three charity boats – including the Open Arms – in August.
“It is the duty of the captain of any vessel to assist shipwrecked persons whose lives are in danger and that failure to rescue is a serious offence,” Open Arms said, adding those rescued were in a condition of “extreme vulnerability”.
The Italian coastguard and the Interior Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Italian right-wing government of Giorgia Meloni, which takes an hard line against illegal immigration, passed the new rules to crack down on the rescue vessels in February, and is still struggling to stem flows of migrants from Africa.
The government believes the presence of rescue boats encourages people to make the perilous trip across the Mediterranean. Charities deny this, saying the migrants put to sea regardless.
Migrant arrivals nearly doubled in Italy this year compared with 2022. More than 135,000 people came ashore so far in 2023, compared with around 72,400 in the same period last year, official data show.
($1 = 0.9507 euros)