06:23 GMT +320 July 2018
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    Migrants are seen on a capsizing boat before a rescue operation by Italian navy ships Bettica and Bergamini off the coast of Libya in this handout picture released by the Italian Marina Militare on May 25, 2016.

    Rome Closes Ports to Italian Ship With Migrants for 1st Time, Vows Punishment

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    After refusing several charity ships loaded with migrants under foreign flags to dock in its ports, Italy’s authorities reportedly forbade an Italian oil vessel, which had rescued migrants off the Libyan coast, from bringing them to Italy.

    Italy’s Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli has revealed that a coast guard ship has taken dozens of migrants from the commercial vessel Vos Thalassa, which flies the Italian flag. The tug, which supplies an oil platform, rescued the would-be asylum seekers off the Libya coast. The passengers then allegedly threatened lives of the crew, according to the official, who oversees the coast guard in Italy. On his Twitter account, he has promised an investigation, slamming “the troublemakers.”

    ​Proud of the Italian @GuardiaCostiera whose ship Diciotti has taken on board 60 migrants, endangering the life of the Italian cruiser Vos Thalassa. Now the investigation is to begin to punish troublemakers.

    The news agency Reuters reports, citing sources, that the migrants would be brought to Italy; however the Ministry doesn’t confirm the information.
    According to the Italian news agency ANSA, which cited the country’s officials, the VOS Thalassa entered the rescue zone and picked the migrants while the Libyan coastal guards were heading there  on the distress call. An Interior Ministry source told Reuters that the vessel was initially told not to bring them to Italy.

    The incident has fallen in line with the hardline course on migration that the newly formed Italian government has taken  at the behest of Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who represents the right-wing Lega party.  Last month, Italy refused to take in immigrant rescue NGO vessels, sparking a diplomatic row in Europe. These included the infamous ship Aquarius, which had more than 600 people on board, which had to dock in Valencia, Spain.  Loyal to his vow to crack down on illegal migration and block its main route from Africa to Europe across the Mediterranean, he has recently promised to bring up the issue at a meeting of European ministers in Austria, scheduled for July 12. 

    "After having stopped the NGO ships, I'll ask European partners on Thursday in Innsbruck to block from Italian ports the arrival of ships currently on international missions in the Mediterranean," Salvini said in a statement.

    The minister also voiced his wish to push EU's border control force, Frontex, to block ships loaded with migrants from docking at Italian ports. Meanwhile, at a grand gathering, Matteo Salvini  also reportedly had to respond to the demands of his German counterpart Horst Seehofer. He wants Salvini to accept the proposal to take back migrants who head to Germany from Italy. The coastal state remains one of the gateways to Europe for migrants from Africa, who are smuggled in inflatable boats and flimsy vessels, which often suffer shipwrecks with many people dying.

    READ MORE: Italy Provides Libya With More Ships to Bring Migrants Back Home

    Over 650,000 migrants, mostly from Africa and the Middle East, have come to Italy's shores since 2014. The numbers, however, have dropped since 2017 when Italy struck a deal with the Libyan authorities, whom they provide with equipment, vessels and training for more effective coastal control.

    Tags:
    illegal migration, border control, migrant crisis, migrant, Danilo Toninelli, Matteo Salvini, Libya, Italy
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