A Spanish humanitarian ship that has been stuck at sea for more than a week because of Italy’s refusal to let it disembark 121 migrants said it has rescued 39 more people, bringing the total to 160, further complicating conditions on board.
The Open Arms boat said it made its latest rescue on Saturday in international waters in the central Mediterranean, where it has been stranded for nine days after Italy and Malta denied it entry.
Open Arms founder Oscar Camps said Malta offered to allow the 39 new passengers to disembark, but still rejected the 121 the boat rescued last week.
“We cannot evacuate 39 people and tell the rest that they have to stay,” Camps said.
Malta said it was willing to accept the 39 migrants since it had launched its own rescue operation to reach the boat that was in its designated search-and-rescue area before theOpen Arms got there first.
But the Maltese government said the other 121 migrants were picked up “in an area where Malta is neither responsible nor the competent co-ordinating authority. Malta can only shoulder its own responsibility since other solutions are not forthcoming”.
Rescue ships face fines of a million euros if they enter Italian waters without permission, the latest move by interior minister Matteo Salvini to suppress the NGOs he has described as migrant taxi services.
Camps remained defiant, saying humanitarian needs protected by maritime law trump all else, but Open Arms is staying away from Italian waters despite the deteriorating and cramped conditions on board.
“We humanitarian organisations that are working at sea will resist, and no decree, no fine, no politician will stop us from protecting human life,” he said at a news conference on the Italian island of Lampedusa.
The Open Arms ship is in international waters near the island.
Actor Richard Gere, who rented a boat to take food and water to the Open Arms on Friday, also made a call for politics to be set aside when lives are in danger.
“These are extraordinary people, they are so strong, they have been through such horrors,” Gere said about his visit on the Open Arms.
“Their passage from their home countries to Libya, what they had to endure, the women above all. The women had been all raped, multiple times. The men tortured in prison, not just once but multiple times. What most people refer to as migrants, I refer to as refugees that are running from a fire.”
Gere drew a comparison between Salvini and US President Donald Trump’s own crackdown on immigrants.
“Demonising people has to stop everywhere on the planet,” Gere said.
Also on Friday, another NGO boat, run by Doctors Without Borders and SOS Mediterranee, said it had rescued 85 migrants in the central Mediterranean.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said 840 people have died this year crossing the Mediterranean.
Of those, 576 were on the perilous central route from Libya. That figure is down by half from a year earlier.