Migrant vessel denied mooring by Italy warns of ‘critical situation’

Spain offers two safe ports but Open Arms refuses as anchored off island of Lampedusa

Spanish migrant rescue vessel  Open Arms: anchored off Lampedusa, Italy, with 107 migrants and 19 crew members on board. Photograph: Guglielmo Mangiapane

Spanish migrant rescue vessel Open Arms: anchored off Lampedusa, Italy, with 107 migrants and 19 crew members on board. Photograph: Guglielmo Mangiapane


A boat carrying more than 100 undocumented migrants which has been waiting nearly three weeks to anchor in a European port, has rejected a Spanish offer to let it dock and insisted that Italy must take it in.

The Spanish charity vessel Open Arms has been seeking a safe port in which to dock since the beginning of August after rescuing the migrants from the Libyan coast. It is moored off the Italian island of Lampedusa with 107 migrants aboard, mainly from Africa, as well as 19 crew, according to Open Arms.

The Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has refused to allow the migrants to disembark, defying a ruling by a court in the country last week and apparently putting him at loggerheads with some of his cabinet colleagues, including prime minister Giuseppe Conte. At the weekend, 27 minors on board were allowed to disembark at the behest of Mr Conte.

The Open Arms charity says that conditions for those on board are desperate, with many needing medical attention. Oscar Camps, founder of the charity, tweeted that those helping the migrants were overwhelmed and that it was a “critical situation”.

‘Good Christians’

On Saturday, Mr Camps posted a video from on board the vessel, in which he said those on it were being “kidnapped” due to Italy’s refusal to let them dock. Another video showed four migrants who had jumped into the sea trying to swim for the shore, before crew members brought them back to the boat.

But Mr Salvini has said the charity is exaggerating the migrants’ situation and earlier this month he railed against Richard Gere, after the Hollywood star boarded the Open Arms and appealed to the Italian authorities to act.

“We’re good Christians but we’re not stupid,” the minister said.

On Sunday, Spain offered Algeciras, in the Gibraltar Strait, as a safe port for the vessel.

However, the charity rejected the offer, with Mr Camps describing Algeciras as “the furthest port [from the vessel] in the Mediterranean” and five days’ travel from its current location.

The Spanish government responded by offering what it said was “the nearest Spanish port” to the vessel, which would be in the Balearic Islands, an option which Open Arms has also reportedly ruled out as too far. Nonetheless, there was confusion on Monday as Madrid denied a claim by the charity that Spain and Italy had reached an agreement for the migrants to disembark on the island of Mallorca.

‘Flouting the law’

Meanwhile, Spain’s deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo, suggested that Open Arms was refusing viable help. “We have offered all kinds of assistance: medical attention, supplies,” she said. “We don’t understand the position of Open Arms.”

Madrid has also criticised the Italian government, accusing it of “flouting the law” by refusing to let the boat dock.

Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Romania and Luxembourg have all agreed to take in the migrants once they disembark.

In June of 2018, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez surprised many of his EU partners by allowing the Aquarius, another vessel carrying migrants which Italy had shunned, to dock in Valencia. That episode has increased pressure on the Socialist leader, particularly from the left, to take a similar decision with Open Arms. Earlier this month, the writer Javier Cercas urged Mr Sánchez to “do again now what you did so well a year ago”.

But Spain’s latest safe port offer has drawn a domestic backlash from some quarters.

Marcos de Quinto, a congressman for the right-of-centre Ciudadanos party, described those on board the boat as “well-fed passengers” and suggested that the plight of Venezuelans suffering their country’s economic crisis was much worse.