Rescue boat with 363 migrants cleared to disembark in Italy

ROME (AP) — A Spanish non-profit group said its migrant rescue boat received permission on Saturday from Italy to disembark 363 passengers after several days in the Mediterranean Sea.

Maritime rescue organisation Open Arms said its boat, also named Open Arms, took the migrants aboard during five separate operations in international waters.

The rescued passengers were picked up from distressed boats launched by Libya-based smugglers over the past few days, the group said. The migrants were crowded together on the bridge of the Open Arms, the organisation tweeted.

Mission chief Gerard Canals said earlier Saturday that the rescue crew hoped Italy would assign a safe port after no permission to dock came from the island nation of Malta. Canals expressed concern that the boat’s supply of food might run out.

Open Arms tweeted on Saturday night that Italian authorities gave the boat “safe harbor” in Pozzallo, Sicily to disembark 363 passengers who “will step on safe mainland tomorrow for the 1st time in a long time.”

In the past few months Italy has allowed such charity ships to disembark rescued migrants at its ports on condition that other European Union (EU) nations agree to take some of the asylum-seekers. Several EU nations have done so, making good on pledges to share the migrant burden at a conference in Malta a few months ago.

During Italy’s previous coalition government, which included the anti-migrant League party as a partner, then-Interior Minister Matteo Salvini triggered repeated standoffs at sea when he denied port access to private rescue ships.

In some cases, the rescuers and their passengers were left in limbo for days or forced to sail as far as Spain to disembark.

People wait to disembark from the Ocean Viking rescue ship, at the Taranto harbour, Southern Italy. PHOTO: AP