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Italy permits migrants aboard Ocean Viking rescue vessel to disembark on Monday

People rescued at sea sit on the deck of the Ocean Viking rescue ship, operated by French NGO SOS Mediterranee in the Mediterranean Sea on July 4, 2020.
People rescued at sea sit on the deck of the Ocean Viking rescue ship, operated by French NGO SOS Mediterranee in the Mediterranean Sea on July 4, 2020. © Shahzad Abdul, AFP
3 min

Italy has authorised charity vessel Ocean Viking to disembark 180 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean in Sicily, ship operator SOS Mediterranee said on Sunday.

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"We have received instructions from the Italian maritime authorities to disembark those on board in Porto Empedocle," a spokesman for the charity told AFP, which has a correspondent on board.

The Ocean Viking is now heading for the port where it expects to arrive by Monday.

Italy was carrying out tests on the migrants with a view to transferring them to a quarantine vessel, an interior ministry source said Saturday.

The migrants have been on the Ocean Viking ship operated by SOS Mediterranee for over a week, with fights and suicide attempts on board prompting the charity to declare a state of emergency on Friday.

A medical team sent by authorities in Pozzallo, Sicily “ascertained the absence of particular health problems and also reported that some tensions that had been registered on the ship are being overcome”, the ministry source said.

The quarantine ship where they will be transferred is currently in Porto Empedocle, which is also in Sicily.

“The situation is carefully monitored in view of the transhipment of migrants, scheduled for Monday 6 July, on the Moby Zaza ship,” the ministry said.

The Ocean Viking, which has been in limbo in the Mediterranean south of Sicily, had been waiting for permission from Italy or Malta to offload the migrants at a safe port.

Italy could transfer migrants from Ocean Viking rescue ship on Monday

Tensions have risen in the past week, as witnessed by the AFP reporter aboard the boat, as migrants have become increasingly desperate to reach land. Others have become distraught at not being able to telephone their families to let them know they were safe.

SOS Mediteranee said in a statement on Saturday that “the only assistance proposed has been a visit by a medical doctor and a cultural mediator who spoke to the survivors but are not in a position to present a solution for their disembarkation”.

The migrants, which include Pakistanis, North Africans, Eritreans, Nigerians and others, were picked up after fleeing Libya in four separate rescues by the Ocean Viking on June 25 and 30.

The migrants include 25 minors, most of whom are unaccompanied by adults, and two women, one of whom is pregnant.

More than 100,000 migrants tried to cross the Mediterranean last year with more than 1,200 dying in the attempt, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

The arrival of summer and more favourable conditions at sea may lead to an increase of attempts to cross the Mediterranean with the hope of arriving in Europe.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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