Two Duke professors' boat rescued 49 migrants from a rubber boat in the Mediterranean sea off the coast of Libya, but not without a cost. 

The Italian government, which has repeatedly denied non-governmental organizations' rescue boats entry into its territory, seized the ship. Matteo Salvini, Deputy Prime Minister of Italy, said he wants to halt such vessels "once and for all" from transporting those rescued to his country. 

The migrants are now in Lampedusa, Italy, but should be able to "initiate the refugee application process." The ship's future remains uncertain as its captain has been accused of "aiding illegal immigration," according to a DukeToday release. 

“The 49 migrants were chanting ‘liberte!’ ‘liberte!’ Freedom! Freedom! There were celebrating liberation,” said Sandro Mezzadra, co-director of the Duke's Social Movements Lab and one of the boat’s owners. 

Italy doesn’t think this mission was a rescue. 

“This is abetting illegal immigration,” Salvini said, according to The Guardian. “It was all planned and they had organised this operation days before.”

Along with a group of friends, Mezzadra and Michael Hardt, professor of literature and fellow co-director of the lab, bought the boat—the Mare Jonio—for 400,000 Euros. The boat has been working since last October to search for people in need of rescue near the Libyan coast. 

Italy has recently encountered a record for boat-riding asylum seekers, who Hardt said face a “graveyard” in the choppy waters. More than 1,600 people died on the sea in the first nine months of 2018. 

So the group decided to partner with non-governmental organizations to partake in rescue missions. 

“We wanted to do something beyond resistance, something positive and unexpected,” Mezzadra said.

The mission had seen some success in 2018. Italy had stopped saving boats in distress, but according to Hardt, after some pressure from the group, the government started saving migrants again. 

When the Mare Jonio had responded to distress calls, Italian officials jumped in to save the migrants. In October 2018, they did save 70 migrants on a rubber raft near Malta—but only once the Mare Jonio responded. 

“Apparently, the Italian government wants to make sure that our ship does not rescue migrants," Hardt said.