Italy's Salvini tightening laws against migrant ships

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has seen his popularity soar in the last year with a hard line against migrants which has included closing ports to rescue vessels (AFP Photo/Miguel MEDINA)

Rome (AFP) - The populist Italian government is stepping up a crackdown against migrant ships and assaults on police with a tough new decree led by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.

The 18-article decree brings in fines of up to 50,000 euros ($57,000) for the captain, owner and operator of a vessel "entering Italian territorial waters without authorisation", Salvini told reporters Tuesday after a cabinet meeting.

Although charity vessels which rescue thousands of migrants are not mentioned they would be hit, with Salvini saying repeat offences would see vessels impounded.

Also under the decree, which still has to go before parliament where the coalition government holds a comfortable majority, penalties will be increased for assault against members of the security forces.

These include four years in jail for using baseball bats, sticks or fireworks against security forces.

Demonstrators who hide their faces to avoid being identified face up to three years in prison and fines of up to 6,000 euros under the decree.

Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister and leads the powerful right-wing League party in the coalition, has seen his popularity soar in the last year with a hard line against migrants which has included closing ports to rescue vessels.

More than 12,000 people have died since 2014 trying to flee Libya to Europe by what the UN refugee agency calls the "world's deadliest sea crossing".