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German Rescue Ship Allowed in Italian Waters Due to Weather

An Italian Coast Guard patrol boat flanks the Sea-Watch rescue ship off the Sicilian coast where it found shelter, about one nautical mile from Siracusa, from gale winds sweeping the Sicilian Channel, Jan. 25, 2019.

Italy pressured the Netherlands on Friday to accept 47 migrants who have spent seven days at sea aboard a humanitarian rescue ship that has been allowed to enter Italian territorial waters due to bad weather conditions.

The German aid group Sea-Watch said Friday on Twitter that it has received no response to multiple requests for the Dutch-flagged Sea Watch-3 vessel carrying people rescued off Libya on Saturday to access a port. The boat was permitted to enter Italian waters Friday due to deteriorating weather conditions, and the Italian coast guard said it was about one to two miles off Syracuse, Sicily, flanked by coast guard and financial police boats.

Italy and Malta, the closest EU nations, have both refused to allow entry to rescue vessels operated by humanitarian groups in what they say is a bid to discourage smuggler boats from departing Libya by diminishing the prospect of rescue.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini told reporters in Rome that he sent a letter to the government in the Netherlands officially requesting that they organize landings for the migrants "aboard this vessel that waves a Dutch flag."

There was no immediate comment from the Dutch government.

EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker's spokesman said that the commission is in touch with member states, and is watching the events closely.

"Our position is clear: The safety of the people on board must be our first concern and priority. What is urgently needed in the Mediterranean are predictable arrangements to ensure disembarkations of rescued persons can take place safely," said spokesman Margaritis Schinas.

A similar impasse was resolved last month when Malta allowed 49 migrants to disembark two NGO-operated vessels, including Sea-Watch 3, after the EU brokered a deal to distribute the migrants among eight EU nations.