A charity-run rescue boat carrying 33 migrants was allowed to disembark on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa overnight into Friday, while two more NGO vessels with more than 500 migrants aboard remain at sea.
The Louise Michel rescue ship was allowed to dock because it was more exposed to strong winds, RAI public broadcaster reported. Italy’s interior ministry had no immediate comment.
Two other NGO ships, the Geo Barents and the Humanity 1, together carrying more than 500 onboard, were still waiting for disembarkation, with no indication whether they would be assigned a safe port.
On Wednesday, a baby was born onboard the Geo Barents boat and later flown to nearby Sicily.
SOS Humanity said that after three migrant rescues carried out in recent days and amid worsening weather conditions, 261 rescued people remained aboard the Humanity 1 vessel, including around 30 women, some of them pregnant, and over 90 minors, most of them unaccompanied.
In spite of help requests sent to both Italy and Malta during the rescue operations, “no coordination by the rescue coordination centres took place,” the NGO said in a statement.
The growing number of migrants stranded at sea risks leading to a new confrontation with Italy’s right-wing government, in a replay of last month’s drama also involving France.
In November, Rome took in three NGO vessels, but refused docking rights for a fourth one, forcing it to sail to France with around 230 people aboard.
The French government complained vehemently, and retaliated by saying it would no longer take in 3,000 migrants already in Italy under a voluntary European burden-sharing deal.
Meanwhile, an Italian court has ordered the government to restore a German charity vessel seized in 2017 over migrant rescues in the Mediterranean.
The Iuventa, owned by non-governmental organisation Jugend Rettet, was impounded and left to rot while prosecutors prepared a case currently in the pre-trial stage.
Twenty-one suspects, including crew members of Jugend Rettet, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and Save the Children rescue ships, are accused of colluding with people traffickers.
Trapani judge Samuele Corso is currently examining whether or not to proceed to trial after a five-year investigation slammed by critics as a politically motivated bid to stop sea rescues.
On Friday, Corso ruled port authorities must “see to all maintenance works necessary to restore and maintain the condition of the (Iuventa) vessel as it was at the time of the seizure”. The cost to the state is an estimated 100,000 euros ($105,000), defence lawyer Nicola Canestrini said.