(see related story on Minniti) (med) – Rome, August 8 – Transport Minister Graziano Delrio told Rome daily La Repubblica in an interview published Tuesday that an NGO vessel close to migrants that need to be rescued cannot be excluded even if it hasn’t signed a code of conduct promoted by the interior ministry. “The right over the past few days has described me as a Catholic who champions the third world and opposes ‘law and order’,” Delrio, whose ministry is in charge of the Coast GUard, told the newspaper. “I am working to crack down on the odious illegal migrant trafficking, in our war against smugglers. “But if there is an NGO vessel close to people who need to be rescued, I can’t exclude it. And even if it has not signed the self-regulation code, I have to use it to save human lives”. Delrio explained that he is not against the code of conduct. “This code comes from an initiative of the transport ministry at the request of organizations. The interior ministry then added further elements regarding security”, he said. He added that he is not in disagreement with Interior Minister Marco Minniti and that he has no “points of contrast” with him. “We are talking about rescue operations at sea – regulated by international laws – not of controlling flows or integration policies. This rescue cannot be derogated, nor is it discretional”, stressed Delrio. “I have instructed the coast guard to mainly use NGOs that show an attitude to cooperate. But I certainly cannot violate a rule of international law or our Constitution. “Does anyone think that it is possible to ban the transfer of migrants aboard a ship, leaving it outside ports to sail in the Mediterranean for 15 days?”. NGOs “must cooperate on everything”, said Delrio. “I understand their point of view, when they say: ‘I am an NGO, not the State’. But I am the State and I want to crack down on this shameful human trafficking. We are at war with smugglers – a true war, not one on televised debates”. Delrio’s statements came on the day that the NGO code nearly led to a government crisis, with Interior Minister Marco Minniti not attending a cabinet meeting and Premier Paolo Gentiloni attempting to ease tension. President Sergio Mattarella stepped in to stress the “value of the code of conduct for NGOs”. The line of the interior ministry and Minniti is clear: those who did not sign the code are out of ‘official’ rescue operations and cannot therefore bring migrants to Italian ports. The line is disregarded if, as occurred last Saturday with MSF, the coast guard asks for the intervention of vessels operated by organizations that have not signed the code and then takes rescued migrants onboard. This led to the problem with Delrio. The ministry of transport and infrastructure, which is in charge of the coast guard, stressed that international laws were always observed and that the code also provides for the possibility of a transfer if it is requested by the coordination center of the coast guard. Several well-informed sources who have spoken with the minister said Minniti asked for, and obtained, a clear political stance of the executive following the statements in order to pursue a coherent policy on immigration after years of chaos. The policy appears to be leading to the first results with the Libyan coast guard that started to take back vessels leaving from Zawia, Zuhara, Sabratha and Garabulli and the number of landings that continues to drop after a week: as of today, 96,438 migrants have arrived, down 3.3% on the 99,727 who landed over the same period in 2016. Meanwhile SOS Mediterranee, one of the NGOs that has not signed the code of conduct yet, asked for a meeting Thursday to “clarify its position” on the code “ahead of a possible signing”.