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Italy Confiscates Migrant Transport Ship Launched Only a Week Before

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The prosecutor’s office of Agrigento has confirmed the seizure of the migrant transport ship the Alex after it brought 41 migrants to Lampedusa, as the government prepares to enact even larger fines against NGOs.

The ship, which is operated by the Italy-based NGO Mediterranea Saving Humans, was impounded this week and investigations have been launched against the commander of the ship Tommaso Stella and the head of the mission Erasmo Palazzotto, Il Giornale reports.

The two men are accused of facilitating illegal migration as well as resisting and disobeying a vessel belonging to Italian authorities. The NGO could also receive a fine of up to 65,000 euros.

The investigations follow another investigation into the head of Mediterranea Saving Humans Luca Casarini, who was interrogated by prosecutor Salvatore Vella in April in connection with aiding illegal migration.

The seizure comes only a week after the NGO announced it would be putting the Alex to sea to aid two other migrant transport NGOs operating off the coast of Libya in the search and rescue (SAR) zone and comes after the NGO’s other vessel, the Mare Jonio, was confiscated in May.

The seizure also comes a week after Sea Watch-3 captain Carola Rackete forced her vessel into Italian waters in an attempt to dock, ramming a patrol boat as she did so. While Rackete was initially arrested, she was released just days later.

Along with looking to amend the security and migration decree to confiscate ships flying the Italian flag, Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini is also looking to dramatically increase the severity of fines for NGOs which enter Italian territorial waters with migrants on board.

The new proposed fines could reach anywhere between 150,000 to a million euros, up from the previous amounts of 10,000 to 50,000 euros. The increased fines will require the backing of the Five Star Movement, Salvini’s coalition partners, but could face scrutiny.

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Court in Gibraltar Extends Iranian Tanker’s Detention for 30 Days

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A court in Gibraltar has extended the detention of an Iranian oil tanker for 30 days, AFP reported, citing Gibraltar’s attorney general. According to the agency, the order authorising the detention of the tanker can be extended for up to 90 days.

“We look forward to continuing to work constructively and positively with officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran to facilitate the release of the Grace 1 pursuant to the satisfaction of all legal requirements,” Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told the territory’s parliament, as quoted by AFP.

On 4 July, the supertanker Grace 1 was detained off the coast of the British Mediterranean territory of Gibraltar on suspicions of it carrying oil to Syria for refinement.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt discussed the issue earlier this week, with Mr Zarif urging London to release the tanker. He also stressed that Tehran would continue its oil exports under any circumstances. Mr Hunt, for his part, said that the Grace 1 would be released once Iran gives guarantees about its destination.

The tanker’s four crew members were freed on bail earlier this month after being questioned.

The situation in the Gulf has remained tense since the US tightened the sanctions it reimposed on the Iranian oil sector after quitting the 2015 nuclear deal.

A series of incidents, including attacks on oil tankers, took place in the Gulf of Oman in May and June. Washington has blamed the attacks on Tehran, but the latter has denied all the accusations.

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Russia in Confidential Consultations with the Netherlands on MH17 Crash

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Russia is having confidential consultations with the Netherlands on MH17 flight that was downed over Donbass in July 2014, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said on Friday.

“Such consultations are underway, but we agreed that the process will have a confidential character,” the diplomat said.

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Links Between Russia and EU’s Right-Wing Parties Cause for Concern, Says Merkel

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Relations between Moscow and EU’s right-wing political parties are a cause for concern, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday during a press conference in Berlin.

“Some questions arise here,” she stated. “We have constantly monitored the very strong support that right-leaning parties have received from Russia in one way or the other.” “This is a cause for concern,” Merkel stressed.

The German chancellor also mentioned the scandal regarding the alleged financing of Italy’s Lega party by Russia, noting that the Italian side must investigate the allegations in detail.

Milan’s prosecution launched a case based on the publications on the US BuzzFeed website and in the Italian L’Espresso weekly news magazine shedding light on the alleged financing Lega was receiving from Russia, qualifying the case as international corruption.

The main suspect in the case is one of the associates of Italy’s Deputy PM Matteo Salvini, head of th-e Lombardy-Russia Association Gianluca Savoini. According to the prosecution, his voice can be heard on the BuzzFeed published audio recording of an alleged conversation with Russian entrepreneurs with ties to the Kremlin, during which a possible oil supply contract was discussed. The party could have received the deal dividends amounting to $65 mln.

Both Salvini and Savoini have denied the allegations.

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