USNS Trenton Transfers Migrants to Italian Coast Guard

The crew of the Trenton brings a casualty aboard, June 12 (USN)

Published Jun 17, 2018 10:56 AM by The Maritime Executive

On Sunday, the crew of the USNS Trenton transferred 41 maritime migrants to Italian coast guard vessels off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy, ending a standoff over how and where the survivors would be brought to shore. 

The crew of the Trenton rescued 41 maritime migrants from an inflatable raft off the coast of Libya on June 12, shortly after the Italian government closed its ports to NGO-operated migrant rescue vessels. After the rescue, the Trenton asked the NGO rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3 to take the survivors on board for transfer to a safe harbor. Sea-Watch 3 agreed, but the transfer did not occur, and on Tuesday the Trenton got under way for Augusta, Sicily to bring the survivors to shore. On Friday, Sea-Watch reported that the Trenton was still off Augusta and waiting for authorization to enter port. The U.S. Navy's 6th Fleet reported that "U.S. authorities are coordinating with . . . international partners to determine [the survivors'] ultimate disposition."

On Sunday, six days after the rescue, the Trenton transferred the 41 individuals to Italian Coast Guard vessels off the coast of Lampedusa, allowing the Trenton to return to her ordinary duties without entering an Italian port. “The pivotal role the shore side units and personnel play in a rescue at sea cannot be minimized; the ship cannot do it alone,” said Capt. Susan Orsini, the master of the Trenton. “Their efforts involve intense and intricate coordination, timely and critical communications to all units and personnel involved."

Shifting domestic politics

On June 11, Italy refused the migrant rescue vessel Aquarius permission to enter port to offload 629 maritime migrants. Matteo Salvini, the minister of the interior and the leader of the right-wing League party, said in a statement that "rescuing lives is a duty, transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp is not." Salvini has since extended the prohibition to cover other NGO vessels with migrants aboard. 

Over the past year, Italian public opinion has shifted against immigration. In two polls conducted in September, 46 percent of Italians said that they felt that migration made Italy less secure, and just over half said that their government had not done enough to curb immigration. During the Italian general election this March, the League party and its allies campaigned on a nationalist, anti-immigration platform and won a plurality of seats in Italy's legislature. 

Last Monday, shortly after Salvini's government denied the Aquarius access to Italian ports, the League party picked up victories in local mayoral primaries across the nation. A poll released Saturday by Corriere della Serra found that 59 percent of Italians support Salvini's approach to immigration.