Rescue ship stuck off Italy rejects Spain port offer due to 'extreme humanitarian emergency'

Alessandro Serrano, AFP | The Spanish migrant rescue NGO ship Open Arms is seen off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa on August 17.

The Open Arms rescue ship carrying more than 100 migrants on Sunday rejected an offer from Spain to dock in Algeciras, a six days' journey away, citing an "extreme" emergency on board.


A charity that operates a rescue ship carrying more than a hundred migrants off the coast of Italy on Sunday said that it could not accept an offer from Spain to dock in Algeciras, citing an emergency situation on board.

The migrants, most of whom are African, were picked up by the Open Arms boat off the coast of Libya and have been waiting to disembark on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa.

“We do not accept Spain as a port to go because we are in a state of extreme humanitarian emergency. What they need is to be disembarked now,” Open Arms’ spokeswoman said.

“It is unthinkable to navigate for six days; that is what it would takes for us to arrive to Algeciras.”

'We are in a state of humanitarian emergency,' Open Arms's Laura Lanuza tells France 24

After the charity rejected the plan to go to Algeciras, in southern Spain, the Spanish government offered the captain of the boat the option to dock at the nearest Spanish port, but the prime minister’s office said the government had not received an answer, Reuters reported on Sunday evening.

An Open Arms spokeswoman confirmed to Reuters that the boat still had not answered Spain’s proposal.

France has offered to take in 40 people from the Open Arms, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told AFP on Sunday.

At least four migrants, wearing life vests, jumped into the sea to try to swim to the Italian island of Lampedusa. Open Arms founder Oscar Camps tweeted a video of the attempt, saying: "We have been warning for days, desperation has its limits."

Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Saturday reluctantly authorised 27 migrant children rescued at sea to disembark from the charity vessel anchored in limbo off Lampedusa for days. In a letter, Salvini told Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte he could authorise the “alleged” minors to leave the Open Arms ship despite it being “divergent to my orientation”.

However, the remaining 105 adults and two accompanied children must stay on board in what the charity Proactiva Open Arms said were “untenable” conditions.

'Broken psychologically'

This is just the latest stand-off between Salvini.and charity vessels rescuing migrants making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.

The ship has been anchored within swimming distance of Lampedusa with 134 migrants on board since Thursday.

Italy has evacuated a handful of people from the Open Arms for medical treatment but Salvini refuses to allow the vessel to dock despite other European countries having agreed to take in the people on board.

The ship’s captain Marc Reig said Friday the migrants, rescued after leaving chaos-stricken Libya, were “broken psychologically”.

The mainly African migrants aboard Open Arms have been plucked from boats in the Mediterranean this month, with weather conditions encouraging more departures from Libya.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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