Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has signed a decree to ban a migrant rescue ship operated by the German charity Mission Lifeline from accessing Italian waters, sources at the ministry said on Tuesday.
A succession of charity vessels has struggled over the past year to bring migrants rescued at sea to Italian shores as Salvini, leader of the far-right League, takes a tough line. He is maintaining that line even though the coalition government that includes the League is locked in a political crisis.
The ship dubbed Eleonore is currently carrying 101 refugees rescued in the Mediterranean Sea, said Axel Steier, head of Mission Lifeline, adding that both Italian and Maltese authorities had declined to let the migrants land.
Steier said passengers were not in danger at the moment, but added that the captain of the vessel would head to one of the two countries in case of an emergency.
"If the ship gets into distress at sea, it will travel to a port", Steier said, adding that only Italy and Malta were possible destinations due to the ship's location.
"It is not up to Mr. Salvini to decide, but to the captain," he said.
Last week Malta allowed the disembarkation of 356 migrants carried by the rescue vessel Ocean Viking after six European Union countries agreed to share the asylum seekers among them.
Also last week, five EU states agreed to take in scores of migrants stranded for weeks on board another rescue ship, Open Arms, after the Italian government refused to allow it to dock, in line with its closed ports policy.