Spain sends ship to collect migrants stranded off Italy

Spain sends ship to collect migrants stranded off Italy
Sky News via CNN

An Italian court has seized a rescue vessel that has been stranded off Italy for 19 days, ordering all migrants on board to disembark.

The move on Tuesday evening comes after Spain said that it was dispatching a ship to collect migrants on the Open Arms humanitarian vessel from the Italian island of Lampedusa to Mallorca, in Spain.

Italian prosecutor Salvatore Vella told CNN that the seizure of the ship became necessary after an inspection by medical personnel conducted earlier in the day found that the hygienic and health conditions on board had deteriorated.

Earlier Tuesday, the Spanish charity that operates the Open Arms vessel said one man had leapt overboard “desperately trying to reach Lampedusa” on Tuesday morning. The rescue ship had been moored 800 meters off the coast awaiting permission to dock.

According to the NGO, Proactiva Open Arms, the man was rescued by the Italian coast guard. It was not clear whether he was returned to the ship or taken to shore.

Just hours later, nine more people plunged themselves into the water in a bid to reach the Italian island. Some that jumped were not wearing life jackets, the charity said.

“One of our volunteers jumped in the water to save them and with the intervention of a Coast Guard vessel, a financial crime police vessel and one of our little rescue dinghies we were able to get them all on board,” a spokesperson for the NGO said.

The group tweeted earlier: “Day 19. Delirious night and a man in the water. First an urgent medical evacuation, then this morning a man threw himself into the water… In the middle (of the night), a woman with a panic attack. The situation is hopeless. Words are missing.”

Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini had refused to allow Open Arms to dock, despite a court ruling that said the boat should be allowed to.

Salvini, who rose to power on anti-migrant xenophobic platform, has previously allowed 27 unaccompanied minors to disembark the ship, although he said that decision was “exclusively” the responsibility of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Eight more people were disembarked for health reasons, while another person accompanied them, the charity said Tuesday. It said there were 98 rescued migrants and 19 volunteers on board. The charity said the condition of those on board was “critical” and submitted an urgent request to dock.

Earlier on Tuesday, Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said that the country was “working to unblock the Open Arms situation as soon as possible” because the situation on board has become “unsustainable.”

Toninelli blamed the situation on the Spanish government. “While previously the other European countries expressed their will to welcome some of the migrants before they reached land, now instead they tell us that they first need to be disembarked in Lampedusa and then we will see,” he said in a post on Facebook.

However, Spain said in a statement on Monday that it had offered the Open Arms “the option to head to the closest Spanish port in the Mediterranean,” adding that the Italian government had “failed to follow the law” in refusing to allow the ship to dock.

But Proactiva Open Arms said it was not possible for the rescue ship to sail to a further port for another three days with adverse weather conditions.

The latest attempts to escape the ship came after four people jumped from the vessel Sunday. All four were rescued by lifeguards on the ship and returned to the boat.

Salvini shuttered Italy’s ports to migrant rescue vessels in June 2018. In July, Italy adopted a decree that could see ships docking without authorization face fines of up to $57,000.

CNN’s Kara Fox contributed to this report.