The Spanish rescue ship Open Arms carrying 311migrants has set sail for Spain after Italian authorities refused it permission to dock.
Spanish govenmental authorities gave it permission to land the migrants after Italy denied it entry following Friday’s rescue off the Libyan coast.
The ship is waiting for the Madrid Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre to assign it a port to disembark in. Its is expected to arrive in about five days, depending on weather conditions. Government sources state that the rescued people will be disembarked in Algeciras.
Permission was given a few hours after a Maltese helicopter evacuated a woman and her newborn baby who were among those rescued and whose state of health troubled the ship’s crew. Despite this assistance Malta refused to open its port to receive the 311 remaining on board. According to a communiqué from the Secretariat of State for Communication, Libya, Italy, France and Tunisia have not responded to requests to disembark rescued migrants.
“My answer is clear: Italian ports are closed! For the traffickers of human beings and for those who help them, the party is over,” said Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the League, a right-wing extremist political party, on social networks.
The crew of the Open Arms hopes that some of the countries to which it has requested permission to disembark – including France and Greece – respond positively and open their ports to avoid a much longer crossing. “Spain is an option but it means between four or five days of travel. Every day we are at sea is a risk to the people on board,” said Gerard Canals, head of mission at the Open Arms.
The government’s response is in contrast to the crisis faced by trawler Nuestra Madre Loreto, based in the port of Santa Pola (Alicante), which spent 10 days at sea waiting for a solution after rescuing 12 migrants, also off the coast of Libya.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s executive maintained for days that the ship’s best destination was a Libyan port, being the closest. Libya is considered by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and other organisations such as Amnesty International an unsafe port for the disembarkation of migrants. Malta finally agreed to pick these migrants up at sea, on condition that they were transferred to Spain as soon as possible