Understand everything about the Franco-Italian showdown about the Ocean Viking

With more than 230 rescued migrants on board, the humanitarian ship ocean viking, which flies the Norwegian flag, suffered on Tuesday a refusal of assistance from the Italian authorities. Without a solution, the NGO Méditerranée requested assistance from France, while at the same time Paris denounced the policy of Italy by Giorgia Meloni. 20 minutes takes stock of this showdown between Paris and Rome.

What happened on Tuesday with the “Ocean Viking”?

L’ocean viking, a humanitarian ship owned by the NGO SOS Méditerranée, cannot find a home. It sails in the central Mediterranean with 234 surviving migrants on board, recovered eighteen days ago on “boats unfit for navigation and overloaded”, indicated the NGO in a statement published this Tuesday.

On the same day, after contacting Libya and Malta on several occasions, ocean viking, who was sailing off the Sicilian port of Syracuse on Tuesday, asked Italy to assign him a place of safety, “in accordance with maritime law”. “But the newly elected government has imposed an implicit and discriminatory ban on entering territorial waters on all search and rescue vessels operated by NGOs”, deplored SOS Méditerranée.

On Tuesday, Italy finally allowed the landing of the Rise Above, another humanitarian boat containing 89 migrants. For two other boats, the transalpine authorities made a selection, in particular refusing adult men.

Thus, of the more than 1,000 migrants picked up at sea by four ambulance boats, after fleeing from Libya on makeshift boats, only those rescued by the Ocean Viking of the NGO SOS Méditerranée were still stranded on Wednesday off the coast of Italy.

Why is it the cold snap between France and Italy?

Paris has had little taste of the Italian bluff. On Tuesday evening, the services of the new far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni greeted France for agreeing to host theocean viking in one of its ports. Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said in an interview on Wednesday that President Emmanuel Macron himself had decided to “open the port of Marseille”.

Immediate denial from the French executive, castigating the “unacceptable behavior” of their neighbor “contrary to the law of the sea and the spirit of European solidarity”. Rome must “play its role” and “respect its European commitments”, French government spokesman Olivier Véran insisted on Franceinfo radio on Wednesday.

Something to cool relations between the far-right politician and Emmanuel Macron, who had nevertheless been the first foreign leader to meet her after her election at the end of October. A pass of arms between Rome and Paris which recalls the standoff which had already opposed the Europeans to Italy four years ago, under the government of Matteo Salvin. Paris and Rome were in particular hung around the fate of theAquariusthe former ship of the NGO SOS Méditerranée, which finally had to land in Valencia in Spain.

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Why this renewed tension between Paris and Meloni’s Italy?

Italy has seen a sharp increase in entries to its territory by sea this year, according to figures from the Interior Ministry, with 88,100 people arriving on its coasts since January 1. Unsurprisingly, the Italian Prime Minister has hardened her country’s immigration policy line since taking office, accepting only minors or the sick. Outraged, his opposition denounces a “selection” of migrants.

And with the arrival in Rome of the most right-wing government since the Second World War, tensions have resumed with Paris. “We are witnessing a diplomatic standoff between France and Italy, which opens a breach towards other situations of this kind, because Italy is clearly calling into question the European agreement (of solidarity) which was in its favor”, observed with AFP the specialist researcher at the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri) Matthieu Tardis.

Since June, a relocation system, which had already undergone a first phase in 2019, provides for a dozen member states, including France and Germany, to voluntarily welcome migrants who have arrived in countries such as Italy. , close to the Libyan coast. So far, 164 migrants have been relocated in 2022 from Italy to other member states, including 117 under the mechanism adopted in June. But Italy is asking for more support from other European countries.

But then where is the “Ocean Viking” sailing?

SOS Méditerranée, noting “the total impasse on the side of Italy”, which did not accede to any of its 43 requests for a safe port, had finally requested assistance from France on Tuesday. But the ship had “still no official response” Wednesday morning, NGO director Sophie Beau told AFP. The Ocean Viking, which has always remained in international waters, is “currently going up along the Sicilian coasts, towards the North and Sardinia”, she added.

ocean viking chose to head for France, when the situation on board “has reached a critical level”. “We are now facing very serious consequences, including the risk of loss of life,” quickly warned the NGO. It is true that Gilles Simeoni, president of the Corsican executive, offered to temporarily accommodate the humanitarian ship in one of its ports “in accordance with its tradition of hospitality and to avoid any loss of human life”.

For his part, Benoît Payan, the mayor of Marseille, challenged the government, indicating that it was “of France’s honor to welcome them”. “The Ocean Viking should arrive in international waters near Corsica on November 10,” the NGO said in a statement, recalling that “all survivors rescued from a distress situation at sea are vulnerable. »

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