Migrant rescue boat heading to aid of anti-migrant vessel in Mediterranean

(FILES) This file photo taken on August 05, 2017 shows a banner that reads, ‘Stop Human Trafficking’ attached to the side of the C-Star vessel as it sails in the Mediterranean Sea, 20 nautic miles off the Libyan coast. The C-Star, is a vessel chartered by a group of European far-right activists opposed to migrants. The activists’ “Defend Europe” scheme was launched by anti-immigration campaigners from France, Italy and Germany who raised 170,000 euros ($200,000) via crowd-funding to hire the vessel. / AFP PHOTO / Angelos Tzortzinis

A German humanitarian rescue ship is heading to the aid of a vessel run by a group of far-right activists, who are at sea to disrupt the work of charity boats helping migrants in the Mediterranean.

The Sea-Eye charity’s founder, Michael Buschheuer, said on Friday that the Italian coastguard had asked his ship to set course for the activists’ C-Star vessel because it was in distress.

The Identitarian group running C-star, however, denied on Twitter that the vessel was in distress but said it had alerted other vessels because its main engine had stopped due to “a minor technical problem.’’

The Italian coastguard declined to comment.

“C-Star is in distress and we are the closest, so at the moment we have set a course to reach them,” Sea-Eye’s Buschheuer said.

Sea-Eye said on Facebook that the C-Star “had engine damage, was unable to maneuver and was in need of assistance”.

Supporters of the Identitarian movement have vowed to “defend” Europe from a migrant “invasion” from Africa.

A statement by the group posted on Twitter denied the vessel was in distress.

“ C-Star has developed a minor technical problem during the night’’ it said and the main engine had stopped.

“Other vessels in the area had been alerted and the problem was “about to be resolved”.

Buschheuer said: “If there is not a big problem and it’s just the engine, it’s ironic. But a boat in distress is never funny.”

The “Defend Europe” activists of Identitarian have struggled to get their mission underway. The C-Star was held up in Egypt and Cyprus, and later refused access to Tunisian ports.

In Cyprus, the crew of the C-Star was stopped on suspicion of smuggling Sri Lankan men to Europe, and then later released.

Calling itself a “patriotic NGO”, the group is tapping into growing unease in Europe about immigration from

North Africa that has brought some 600,000 impoverished migrants and refugees to Italy in less than four years.

In that time, more than 13,000 have died trying to make the crossing.

Since 2014, charity groups have been operating rescue ships that have pulled tens of thousands of migrants from overcrowded and unsafe boats to safety.

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