Spain sends warship to pick up migrants off Italy's coast

Spain sends warship to pick up migrants off Italy coast
Madrid: Spain ordered a naval vessel on Tuesday to the Italian island of Lampedusa to bring migrants stranded there on a rescue boat to Mallorca after some of them jumped overboard, amid a prolonged stand-off with Italy’s government over their fate.

Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli welcomed Spain’s move to take the migrants.

The Open Arms rescue ship is run by a Spanish charity of the same name and has been at sea for 19 days with almost 100 migrants onboard. It has been waiting just off the port of Lampedusa, asking to bring the mostly African migrants ashore despite an Italian ban on private rescue ships docking.

The navy ship Audaz “will depart this afternoon at 5 p.m. and will sail for three days to Lampedusa, where it will take charge of the people hosted by the Open Arms and escort the boat” to the Spanish port of Palma in Mallorca, the Socialist government said in a statement.

“The government ... considers this to be the most adequate solution that will allow a resolution of the humanitarian emergency taking place aboard the Open Arms this week,” it said.

The plan is to transfer most of the migrants to the Audaz and escort the Open Arms with the remaining migrants, a government official clarified later.

The Open Arms said it had not yet been informed of the Spanish decision.

It earlier tweeted that “the situation is out of control” aboard the ship and that nine people had thrown themselves into the water. It says the situation on board is desperate and some migrants are suicidal. The passengers are sleeping jammed together on deck and sharing two toilets.

After the charity said nine had tried to swim ashore, Reuters footage showed another five people jump, although it was not immediately clear if some were lifeguards.

Italian coastguards went to the rescue of those who jumped, Reuters reporters saw. Reuters footage showed a few people being brought to the Open Arms on a small dinghy but it was not clear if they were among the rescued migrants.

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 have become “taxis” for people smugglers.