ROME – An NGO-operated rescue vessel with 107 migrants on board which has been stranded at sea for 18 days and has been repeatedly denied entry to a safe port by Italy and Malta has suggested the migrants should be transported to Spain by plane.
The Open Arms has been waiting for days off the Italian island of Lampedusa waiting to disembark migrants who were rescued in the Mediterranean on 1 and 10 August.
“To give dignity to the shipwrecked, they could transfer them to Catania (Sicily), and from there, in a plane, to Madrid,” Open Arms spokesman Riccardo Gatti told reporters on the dock at Lampedusa.
“To rent a Boeing for 200 persons costs 240 euros a passenger,” Gatti was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency ANSA.
Gatti also added that this operation would be far more costly than the cost of a flight for an Italian coast guard ship to take on the migrants and sail them to Spain.
On Sunday, the Spanish government offered the vessel the possibility of docking at the southern port city of Algeciras, but the captain of the ship dismissed the offer as unfeasible due to the desperate situation on board and the distance such a journey would involve.
“After 26 days of the mission, 17 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, about 5 more days, to Algeciras, the farthest port in the Mediterranean, with an unsustainable situation on board?” Oscar Camps, founder of the charity, said in a statement.
The NGO said it could not embark on a days-long voyage due to the critical state of some of the migrants.
The charity said the rescued people were sleeping on the deck, suffering from anxiety with tensions running high as fights were breaking out on the ship.
Some migrants had also thrown themselves into the sea in an attempt to swim to the Italian island.
In the statement the NGO released, it requested a safe port in either Malta or Italy, but said that this had been rejected.
On Sunday, Italy’s transport minister, Danilo Toninelli, a member of the Five Star Movement (M5S), said that the national coastguards would be available to accompany the Open Arms to the Spanish port.
The M5S has a different stance on the migration crisis to far-right interior minister and head of the Northern League, Matteo Salvini, who has repeatedly closed Italy’s ports to NGO rescue ships.
On Saturday, under pressure from Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, he allowed the disembarkation of 27 unaccompanied minors who had been on board since August 1.
Carmen Calvo, Spain’s deputy prime minister, said Italy could not keep its ports closed, adding that there was the possibility of denouncing the Mediterranean country to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg.
“We can rescue and serve 163 people on board for 2 weeks, we can defend their rights before the relevant institutions, we can withstand the media attack of two governments and their populist propaganda, but we are only an NGO depleting our limited resources,” Camps decried.