AQUARIUS, Mediterranean Sea - The ship chartered by a far-right group to “monitor the doings of NGOs” in the Mediterranean has reached the search and rescue zone off the Libyan coast.
It is the first time the far-right mission has come into proximity with an NGO rescue ship since it entered the Mediterranean last month.
The C-Star came within 600-700 metres of the Aquarius before slowing down and changing course.
Defend Europe is now headed in the opposite direction, headed West towards Tripoli.
The group has said it wants to find evidence of collusion between the NGOs and people-smugglers operating out of Libya. It is not clear why it did not follow the Aquarius further but it is headed towards an area where another ship operated by Open Arms is patrolling.
The NGOs deny collusion and insist they are carrying out vital humanitarian work.
In the eight days since HuffPost UK boarded the Aquarius, the ship has assisted in the rescue of 500-600 migrants.
It has also recovered the bodies of eight that drowned when their dinghy collapsed.
Defend Europe is part of the young, media-savvy Identitarian movement which says it wants to preserve Europe’s identity and calls for an end to immigration and multiculturalism.
Rather than saving the lives of desperate migrants setting sail from war-torn Libya, the group sees NGOs as enabling people-traffickers by “acting as a taxi service”.
Simon Wald, a spokesperson for Defend Europe, told HuffPost UK in Catania last week: “Of course by now there is no definite proof of direct collaboration between NGOs and people-traffickers and but this [mission] is deemed necessary because the business of human traffickers is based on the fact that they expect an NGO boat to be waiting for those migrants.
“This means when the human-traffickers are expecting the NGO boat to be there, even more migrants will come.”
The last communication from Defend Europe was a highlights reel of its trip so far set to some dubious music.
While the group claims it will simply observe and, if necessary, come to the rescue of any vessel in distress including those carrying migrants, a number of individuals and groups have expressed concerns to HuffPost UK that they will endanger lives by trying to disrupt search and rescue missions.
So far they have unfurled a banner and shouted at a ship.