More than 100 migrants aboard a German migrant rescue ship stranded at sea for a week disembarked in Sicily after Italian police confiscated the boat.
The ship’s captain earlier set course for the Sicilian port Pozzallo, citing an emergency due to bad weather and sparking a new stand-off between rescuers and Italy’s far-right interior minister as he looks set to lose his job.
“The people aboard the Eleonore for eight days now land in Pozzallo. They are first searched by the police and then handed to the Red Cross,” a journalist aboard said in a tweet, posting a photo of migrants coming ashore.
Captain Claus-Peter Reisch earlier said he decided to enter Italian waters and head for shelter, in defiance of the authorities, because of storms.
“After eight days of waiting for a safe harbour, after countless attempts to convince states to care for 104 people, tonight the weather decided,” he tweeted.
“I need to declare Eleonore a case of emergency due to the life-threatening situation on board.”
Axel Steier, head of Mission Lifeline, the German charity operating the ship, told Reuters people aboard were soaked and at risk of hypothermia. Photos on social media showed migrants huddling on the deck in rain.
Matteo Salvini, leader of the League and interior minister in Italy’s outgoing government, signed a decree last week banning Eleonore from entering Italian waters as part of his closed-door policy on migrants from Africa.
A succession of charity vessels have struggled over the past year to bring migrants rescued at sea to Italian shores as Salvini takes a tough line.
Salvini is on the verge of leaving the interior ministry after he decided to pull his League party from a coalition with the 5-Star Movement. 5-Star is in talks to form a new government with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), highly critical of Salvini’s uncompromising stance.
“Laws and borders will be respected. If someone thinks he can ignore them without consequences, he is making a big mistake I am doing and will do everything to defend Italy,” Salvini said in a statement on the Eleonore’s attempt to dock.
As the Eleonore arrived in Pozzallo, the Mare Jonio, a rescue ship operated by an Italian non-governmental organisation, docked at Lampedusa with 31 people aboard, ending its own stand-off with Salvini.
The Mare Jonio picked up around 100 migrants adrift of Libya in a rubber dinghy last Wednesday. Many rescued were women and young children who were transferred to another ship and brought ashore last week.
Salvini has been using immigration to drive a wedge between 5-Star and the PD and called for a snap election. His efforts look likely to fail and the new government could take office before the end of the week.