Nearly a hundred migrants stranded on the Open Arms rescue ship off Lampedusa disembarked on the Italian island on Tuesday night, ending a stand-off between the Spanish charity operating the boat and the government in Rome.
The migrants, mainly from Africa, left the boat after an Italian prosecutor ordered seizure of the ship and evacuation of the people on board.
The Open Arms ship, run by a Spanish charity with the same name, rescued the migrants heading for Europe off Libya. After Italy refused to let it dock the ship was stranded at sea for nearly three weeks, with the charity saying the migrants were distressed and urgently needed shelter.
Open Arms’ director and founder, Oscar Camps, confirmed on Twitter the ship would be seized temporarily, adding it was “a cost Open Arms assumes to ensure people on board can be served.”
“We consider it essential to prioritise the migrants’ health and safety in this humanitarian emergency,” he said.
Spain sent a naval vessel to rescue the migrants and take them to Mallorca after some jumped overboard.
The Spanish navy is due to reach Lampedusa in three days and Open Arms repeatedly said the situation on board was desperate and some migrants were suicidal.
After the charity said nine tried to swim ashore Reuters footage showed five people jumping.
Italy has taken a tough line on migrant entry, saying it has borne too much responsibility for handling African migration to Europe. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini says the charity-run ships are “taxis” for people smugglers.
“NO LONGER THE REFUGEE CAMP OF EUROPE”
Dozens of migrants were taken ashore after the ship entered Italian waters because they were minors or ill.
Salvini suggested the charity was exaggerating problems on board. Of eight migrants taken ashore on Monday for urgent medical attention, he said, only two had health problems.
“Spanish NGO, Spanish ship, Spanish port: The coherence and strength of Italy has paid off. We are no longer the refugee camp of Europe,” he said in a statement.
The standoff fuelled Salvini’s campaign against migrant boats from Africa and comes as he tries to force Italy into snap elections. Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced his resignation on Tuesday, accusing Salvini of sinking the ruling coalition for personal and political gain.
Welcoming Spain’s latest move, Salvini’s political rival Danilo Toninelli hoped Madrid would now commit to stop Open Arms’ activity in the future.
Toninelli, who controls the Coast Guard but not port access, earlier offered to take the migrants to Spain on a Coast Guard vessel under condition that Madrid deregisters the Open Arms ship.
“I hope Spain answers our appeal and commits to stopping Open Arms with the means and in the ways it deems right,” the Italian minister said in a statement.
Without a flag, it would be difficult for the ship to continue rescue missions.
Spain and five other European Union nations offered to take migrants. Details of offers from Spain, France, Germany, Romania, Portugal and Luxembourg are yet to be finalised.