An Italian court has suspended a government ban preventing a charity migrant rescue ship with over 140 passengers from entering the country.
The Spanish-flagged Open Arms search-and-rescue ship had picked up dozens of migrants and refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe but had then been stranded after both Italy and Malta refused it permission to land and disembark the passengers.
A court in Rome has now ruled that the Open Arms should be allowed to enter Italian territorial waters and those passengers most in need be given assistance. In response, Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini announced that he would defy the ruling and still not allow the rescue ship to land. His ban would also apply to a French charity rescue ship, the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking, which picked up over 350 people from four boats in distress off the coast of Libya and has so far been refused permission to land in Italy or Malta. Open Arms has lodged an appeal to the court, citing international maritime law on the need to bring those rescued at sea to safety.
The Open Arms is currently berthed off the Italian island of Lampedusa, where nine passengers were allowed to land on medical grounds, as well as 32 minors. Hygiene and sanitary conditions onboard the ship, which has been stranded at sea with its passengers for two weeks, are reported to be very poor, and medications supplies have run out. Salvini had threatened the rescue ship with a EUR1 million fine and confiscation if it landed in Italy.