Duke Professor's Boat Seized After rescuing 49 Migrants on the Mediterranean

The Mare Jonio

A tugboat co-owned by a Duke professor has been impounded by the Italian government after rescuing 49 migrants from the Mediterranean Sea and bringing them to a Sicilian shore.

Since last October, the Mare Jonio, a 27-meter tugboat registered in Italy, has conducted two-week monitoring missions in the international Search and Rescue Zone off the Libyan coast. Earlier this week it rescued the 49 people from a rubber boat and brought them to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa.

The rescued migrants disembarked there, after which the boat was seized by the government, according to a news report in The Guardian.

The Mare Jonio is owned by a group of activists that include Michael Hardt, professor in Duke’s literature program. The group bought the boat last year and hired an Italian crew, setting sail first in October. Hardt is one of two people with Duke ties involved in the project; the other is Sandro Mezzadra, a political theorist at the University of Bologna in Italy who, along with Hardt, are co-directors of the Social Movements lab in Duke’s Franklin Humanities Institute (FHI).  

Hardt and Mezzadra discussed the project Thursday during a FHI-sponsored talk at Smith Warehouse – Hardt in person and Mezzadra over a video link from his home in Italy.

“Our ship has been seized,” Mezzadra said, noting the moving scene when the migrants, who were plucked from waters off Libya, made it to Italy. “The 49 migrants were chanting ‘liberte!’ ‘liberte!’ Freedom! Freedom! There were celebrating liberation.”

That 49 migrants are curently being held in Lampedusa but are expected to soon initiate the refugee application process, Hardt said.

The ship’s captain was charged with aiding illegal immigration, and the fate of the Mare Jonio and its operations are unknown at the moment, Hardt added.

“There is now a standoff between the project and the Italian government,” he said.

Hardt’s group has partnered with several non-profits and a non-governmental organizations, each of which has provided resources. The non-profit Sea-Watch is helping with planning and oversight.

Project updates are available on Twitter @RescueMed.

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Social Movements Lab co-directors discuss Italian government’s seizure of migrant rescue ship