Tunisian fishermen vowed Sunday to block a ship carrying far-right activists from docking at their port, dealing a fresh blow to their mission to disrupt the flow of migrant boats from north Africa to Europe.
The C-Star, a boat chartered by anti-immigration group “Generation Identity”, passed through waters off Libya on Saturday.
It briefly tailed the Aquarius, operated by French group SOS Mediterranee, one of several NGO boats conducting search and rescue operations in an area notorious for deadly migrant boat sinkings.
Having left Cyprus on August 1, the 40-metre (130-foot) vessel was thought to be in need of supplies: but the fishermen in the southeastern Tunisian port of Zarzi had other ideas.
“If they come here we’ll close the refuelling channel,”Chamseddine Bourassine, the head of the local fishermen’s organisation, told AFP.
“It is the least we can do given what is happening out in the Mediterranean,” he added.
“Muslims and Africans are dying.”
An official at the port, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “What? Us let in racists here? Never!”
The self-styled “Defend Europe” mission has had a chequered history to date.
Their boat was held up for a week in the Suez Canal by Egyptian authorities looking for weapons.
Then, after it landed in the Cypriot port of Famagusta last month, several of its crew jumped ship and asked for asylum in Europe — exactly the kind of thing the mission was set up to prevent.
The C-Star crew say their main goal is to expose collaboration between NGO rescue ships and the traffickers who launch boats packed with migrants from Libya.
Humanitarian groups say Generation Identity is engaged in a potentially dangerous publicity stunt.
Since the start of 2014, some 600,000 people from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia have been rescued from traffickers’ boats and taken to Italy.
Over 10,000 have died en route and serial sinkings have resulted in privately funded or charity-run boats joining a multinational search and rescue operation coordinated by Italy’s coastguard.
NGO boats have rescued around one third of the nearly 100,000 people picked up this year, but their relations with Italy have become strained as pressure to stem the flow of migrants has mounted.