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Italian charity ship defies Rome to rescue 50 off Libyan coast

The Address | Benghazi – Libya

ROME – An Italian charity ship has rescued on Monday about 50 people at sea off Libya, prompting Rome to warn it was ready to “stop once and for all” such private vessels from bringing rescued migrants to Italy.

“Mare Jonio has just rescued a rubber boat in distress that was sinking with around 50 people on board,” the Mediterranea collective of aid groups and associations that runs the ship said on Twitter.

Volunteers aboard the Mare Jonio pulled the migrants – reportedly including 12 minors – from a dinghy 40 nautical miles off the coast of Libya.

A Libyan coastguard vessel had approached the dinghy while the rescue was under way but left the rescuees to the Mare Jonio, which was expected to request permission to bring them to Italy.

Vincent Cochetel, the UNHCR’s special envoy for the central Mediterranean, praised the action of Mare Jonio tweeting, “Good luck & thank you. We hope the disembarkation outside of Libya will be faster than what we witnessed before.”

Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, maintained that his country’s ports will not receive the rescued migrants, tweeting, “The ports were and remain CLOSED.”

It was not immediately clear whether the Mare Jonio had defied an order from the command center in Rome telling it to leave the rescue to the Libyans.

The Mare Jonio is the only privately run rescue ship operating in the central Mediterranean. The others are either undergoing repairs, docked for a crew change or blocked by administrative or judicial hurdles.

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