Migrants exit rescue ship in Italy after 19-day standoff

MILAN (AP) — Over 80 people were evacuated from a migrant rescue ship on Tuesday, capping a drama that saw 15 passengers jump into the sea to escape deteriorating conditions aboard and spurred Spain to dispatch a naval ship in a bid to end a weeks-long humanitarian crisis with Italy.

Sicilian prosecutor Luigi Patronaggio ordered the seizure of the ship off Italy’s southernmost island of Lampedusa — and the immediate evacuation of its passengers — after he boarded the vessel and met with port authorities as part of an investigation into possible kidnapping charges resulting from the refusal of hard-line Interior Minister Matteo Salvini to allow the migrants to get off the Spanish humanitarian ship named the Open Arms, the news agency ANSA reported.

“Finally, the nightmare ends and 83 people on board will receive immediate assistance on land,” Open Arms said on Twitter. Hours later, migrants and crew celebrated as the rescue ship docked in Lampedusa. The migrants then walked one-by-one down a gangplank to land.

The rescued passengers have been on the Spanish-flagged charity ship since they were plucked from the Mediterranean 19 days ago.

Migrants wave from the deck of the Open Arms rescue ship before disembarking on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, southern Italy. – PHOTO: AP