Anti-migrant activists whose ship ran into trouble in the Mediterranean Sea has refused help from a humanitarian rescue vessel.
The German charity Sea Eye, which has been saving refugees and others if they get into difficulty while trying to cross from Africa to Europe, was told it was not needed when it reached the vessel C-Star carrying the activists from the Identitarian group.
The Sea-Eye’s founder, Michael Buschheuer, said the Italian coastguard had asked his ship to set sail for the activists’ 130ft boat because it was in distress.
But the Identitarian members on board the C-star denied on Twitter that their ship needed help.
However they also said they had alerted other vessels in the area because its main engine had stopped due to “a minor technical problem”.
Mr Buschheuer told Reuters by telephone that after their ship arrived in the area “we had radio contact … they said they don’t need or want our help”.
Defend Europe insisted everything would soon be fixed.
“C-Star developed a minor technical problem during the night,” a spokesperson said, saying that its engine was stopped so it could be fixed.
“This means that under [maritime laws to prevent collisions] the vessel is considered ‘not under command’ and information was sent out to vessels nearby in accordance with regulations.
“This problem is about to be resolved.”
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Supporters of the Identitarian movement have vowed to “defend” Europe from a migrant “invasion” from Africa. They also claim they want to prevent human tafficking.
They are mainly young people aged in their 20s and 30s from France, Germany, Italy and Austria, and have been described by some as the European equivalent of America’s alt-right movement.
This is not the first time the “Defend Europe” activists have run into difficulties with their mission, as 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, before being released.
The group, which describes itself as a “patriotic NGO”, says it motivated by growing unease in Europe about mass immigration from North Africa that has brought more than 600,000 impoverished migrants and refugees to Italy in about four years.
In that time, more than 13,000 people died trying to make the perilous crossing, often on boats not designed for the open sea.
Since 2014, charities have operated rescue ships that have pulled tens of thousands of migrants from the overcrowded boats to safety.
The rescue groups have expressed concern the Defend Europe activists will try and disrupt their work and endanger lives, although the group insists its intention is to “achieve a complete documentation and observation of the doings of those NGOs” with the aim of stopping them from patroling the Mediterranean.
Additional reporting by Reuters