Italy: Rescue ship with 104 people can dock after 11 days at sea

Government gives permission to Ocean Viking to disembark stranded passengers it picked off Libya’s coast on October 18.

Migrants disembark from the Ocean Viking rescue ship enters in the commercial port of Taranto in Taranto, Italy, 16 October 2019. Italy allowed 176 migrants who were rescued from two boats off the Lib
The people were picked up off the Libyan coast on October 18 [File: EPA]

Italy‘s government has said it will allow 104 people to disembark from a charity ship that rescued them in the Mediterranean Sea after it spent 11 days at sea waiting for authorisation.

The people on board the Ocean Viking were authorised to dock in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo, the Italian interior ministry said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that France and Germany had agreed to take in 70 of them. 

Amongst those on board were 10 women – two of them pregnant – and 41 children under 18. 

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee, the charities operating the rescue vessel, issued an appeal on Monday asking Europe to designate a safe port for the people they had picked up off the Libyan coast on October 18. 

According to MSF, an agreement was also reached to let 90 people on board another Mediterranean rescue ship, the Alan Kurdi, disembark. However, there was no immediate confirmation of this from Italy.

“We are relieved, and appreciate that France, Germany, and Italy have finally found a solution for relocation of all 104 survivors on board Ocean Viking, and the 90 people on board Alan Kurdi,” Michael Fark, the MSF head of mission for Libya and the Mediterranean, said on Tuesday.

“After days stranded at sea, and enduring horrific conditions in Libya and along their journey, finally they will be taken to safety.

“It is unacceptable to strand people at sea, waiting days and weeks while European states debate whether and how to fulfil their humanitarian and legal obligations. It’s disappointing that only three states were part of this solution,” he added, calling all European countries to “live up to their principles”.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League party who was Italy’s interior minister for 14 months up until August, had closed Italian ports to charity ships, leaving boats stranded in the Mediterranean for many days awaiting authorisation to dock.

Salvini denounced Tuesday’s decision to let the Ocean Viking come to port.

“Once again the Italian government has dropped its trousers. Once again it is doing a favour to an NGO … which encourages human traffickers to ply their trade,” he said.

The League’s decision to quit the coalition opened the door for the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) to enter government with the populist Five Star Movement. 

The centre-left PD has pushed for a more moderate immigration policy and has looked to Europe for assistance in dealing with the issue.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies