ROME – The fate of the migrant rescue vessel Open Arms remains uncertain as it remains near the Italian island of Lampedusa hoping to be allowed to dock so that 107 migrants on board can get off.
The Spanish-flagged vessel turned down an offer by the Spanish government to dock at the southern port of Algeciras, despite an order issued by the National Maritime Rescue Coordination Center for the ship to do so.
“An urgent request was sent to the port of #Lampedusa to enter and disembark the 107 people who have been on board for 17 days,” the NGO posted to its Twitter account.
“Their psychophysical situation is critical, their safety is at risk,” the tweet read. “If the worst happens, Europe and (Italian Interior Minister Matteo) Salvini will be responsible.”
Thus, the vessel is considered to be “unable” to make the five-to-seven-day trip to Algeciras given the situation on board among the migrants who were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea 17 days ago.
“We have turned down the offer to go to Algeciras because the people we have on board have to get off the boat immediately,” a spokesperson for the NGO told EFE.
“We have been there for 17 days, there is an (Italian) legal ruling that so states and people cannot continue to remain on board the Open Arms, and even less so to make the five-or-six-day trip needed to arrive at Algeciras,” she added.
NGO founder Oscar Camps also rejected the offer made by the socialist government of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
“After a mission of 26 days, 17 of (them) waiting with 134 people on board, a court order in favor and 6 countries willing to host, do you want us to sail 950 miles, some 5 more days, to Algeciras, the most distant port in the Mediterranean, with an unsustainable situation on board?” Camps posted to his Twitter account.
At nearly the same time, several of the rescued migrants jumped overboard in a bid to swim to the shore of Lampedusa.
The vessel has been located 150 meters off the shore of the Italian island since Friday when it entered Italian territory after being given the green light to do so by a court.
The court had ruled against a ban imposed by Salvini, who is a right-wing extremist.
The attempt by some of the migrants to swim to Lampedusa mirrors the despair they are experiencing after being on board the vessel for three-and-a-half weeks.
Camps described an explosive and desperate situation on board that includes “fights, panic, anxiety crisis.”
He asked rhetorically whether deaths were necessary before the situation can be resolved.
Salvini, who has held firm to his stance throughout the crisis, criticized the NGO for turning down the Algeciras offer.
“Unbelievable and unacceptable, do you organize tourist cruises and decide where to disembark? I’m not giving up, Italy is no longer Europe’s refugee camp,” Salvini posted to his Twitter account.
Before that, he had said he was thrilled with the Spanish offer.
The Italian minister appeared in a live video saying he took pride in “holding (my) head up high” throughout the crisis.
The National Maritime Rescue Coordination Center order is subject to the ship captain’s judgment, Spanish government officials told EFE.
On Saturday, after Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s intervention, Salvini reluctantly allowed 27 unaccompanied minors who had been on board since Aug. 1 to disembark.