Italy has impounded a rescue ship operated by a German NGO, the third charity boat sequestered this week under tough new migration rules introduced by the country's right-wing government.
The temporary seizure of the three vessels, all held at port after completing rescue operations in the central Mediterranean, comes as migrant arrivals to Italy continued to soar despite efforts by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to halt the flow.
Germany's Sea Eye 4 boat was detained after bringing 114 irregular refugees to the southern port of Salerno, and told it could not put to sea for 20 days. It was also fined almost $3,240, the Sea Eye group said in a statement on Wednesday.
It was the second time the boat has been impounded this year.
A second charity ship, Aurora, operated by Germany's Sea Watch, was seized on Monday after bringing 76 refugees to the island of Lampedusa, while the Spanish rescue vessel Open Arms was impounded on Tuesday in the Tuscan port of Carrara after rescuing 195 people.
"(This) is a politically motivated attack on humanitarian action, and one that will cost lives," said Arnaud Banos, head of mission on Sea-Eye 4.
There was no immediate comment from the Italian Coast Guard.
'Italy's cruel political chess game'
A law approved by Italy's parliament in February requires charity-run ships to sail to port immediately after a rescue, preventing them from organising multiple operations at sea.
Both Sea-Eye and Open Arms carried out three separate rescues before heading to the ports assigned to them by Italy, saying that asylum seekers would have died without their intervention.
Italian authorities are also instructing ships to head to more distant ports, in some cases hundreds of kilometres away.
The Aurora was sequestered after it refused orders to sail to Sicily and instead docked at Lampedusa, which was much closer, saying it was running out of fuel and drinking water.
"We denounce Italy's cruel political chess game, focused on violently preventing migration and impeding civil sea rescue," said Giulia Messmer, spokesperson of Sea-Watch.