Panama has revoked the registration of the NGO migrant transport ship Aquarius 2, which was the last remaining charity rescue vessel operating in the central Mediterranean area. It is currently at sea with 58 refugees on board.
The move by the Panama Authority (PMA) means that once the Aquarius 2, operated in part by SOS Mediterranee, arrives into port it will be deflagged and barred from operating. As such, there are no more NGO vessels able to transport people from the Libyan coast in the near future unless the ship can find a new flag to sail under.
SOS Mediterranee, one of the charities that operates the Aquarius, said in a statement it was reeling from news of the revocation, which it said followed pressure from the Italian government.
“On Saturday ... the Aquarius team was shocked to learn of an official communication from the Panamanian authorities stating that the Italian authorities had urged the PMA to take ‘immediate action’ against the Aquarius,” it said. -Reuters
Italy's interior minister Matteo Salvini denied that the Italian government applied pressure on Panama. He has previously accused SOS Mediterranee and similar groups of acting as a Mediterranean "taxi service" for migrants, and that the Aquarius 2 had hindered the work of the Libyan coast guard by ignoring instructions.
Public backlash against the influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants by sea over the past five years was a large part of the rise of Italy's anti-establishment coalition government, which took office in June and immediately began cracking down on migrant vessels.
Salvini has led a popular crackdown against immigration since his League party and the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement took office in June.
Salvini has previously accused SOS Mediterranee and other charities of acting like a Mediterranean “taxi service” for the migrants.
Salvini said on Sunday that Aquarius 2 had hindered the work of the Libyan coast guard, ignoring instructions.
He said that, according to newspapers, Aquarius 2 was about to have its registration revoked by Panama because it was “illegal and does not respect procedures”. -Reuters
"They can change their name and flag another thousand times but Italy’s ports will remain shut to these gentlemen," he said.