The Spanish government said on Tuesday it would send a navy ship to the Italian island of Lampedusa to escort the Open Arms rescue ship back to Spain.
“The Audaz will depart this afternoon at 5 pm and will sail for three days to Lampedusa, where it will take charge of the people hosted by the Open Arms and escort the boat … to the port of Palma in Mallorca,” the Socialist government said in a statement.
Migrants aboard the rescue ship Open Arms began jumping off the stranded vessel on Tuesday afternoon, where they have been stranded for 19 days.
Around 11.19 am CEST, the NGO tweeted saying nine people had thrown themselves into the water “trying to reach the coast of Lampedusa”.
“Italian lifeguards and coastguards are trying to rescue them. The situation is out of control,” it wrote.
The ship, which rescued the migrants off the coast of Libya, has been stranded off the coast of Lampedusa for weeks, with Italy refusing to allow it to dock. That is despite six EU countries reportedly being ready to take them in.
A Syrian man was the first overboard and was rescued by Italian authorities, who are caring for him, an Open Arms spokeswoman said.
Reuters reporters said Italian coastguards came to the rescue of those who jumped after.
Overnight, eight migrants on board the rescue ship requiring urgent medical attention were evacuated from the Spanish vessel to the Italian port of Lampedusa.
One other migrant accompanying them also disembarked.
Open Arms said the situation on board is desperate and passengers are sleeping jammed together on deck and sharing two toilets.
There have also been reports that scuffles have been breaking out on board.
However, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini accused the charity of exaggerating conditions on board, accusing the migrants who were taken ashore overnight of lying about their ages and illnesses.
How did we get here?
Italy has taken a hard line on migrant entry, of the opinion it has borne too much responsibility for coping with African migration to Europe.
Open Arms had said Monday that it understood the Spanish government would allow them to dock and get off the boat in Mallorca — the nearest Spanish port to where they are located.
“Now, after 18 days of stagnation, Italy and Spain seem to have reached an agreement, identifying Mallorca as a port of disembarkation,” it said in a press release.
However, the charity expressed concern over the time it would take to sail the boat to a Balearic port as they are currently based off the coast of Italy and the journey would significantly exacerbate the already trying conditions on board.
The stranded migrants, most of whom are African, hoped to disembark on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa instead.
Salvini ordered his officials not to let them do so, although he made a partial concession on Saturday by allowing 27 minors to leave the boat, saying he had only agreed to this at the insistence of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
Salvini’s political rival, Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, who controls the Coast Guard but not port access, has offered to take the migrants on a Coast Guard vessel to Spain.
However, he set the condition that Madrid removes the Open Arms’ Spanish flag, de-registering it.
Without this, the ship would have difficulty running future rescue missions, its insurance would be invalid and it could be intercepted at any time by a navy or coast guard force.
Open Arms said this was not an option. “They want to take the flag away from us. The price is very high,” Spain’s El Mundo newspaper cited Open Arms’ director and founder, Oscar Camps, as saying on Tuesday.
Italy was still working on a deal with Spain, Toninelli said early Tuesday afternoon.
“I had a conversation with Spain just now and I expect the Spanish government to respond to our request by doing whatever is necessary to stop the NGO,” he wrote on Facebook.
UN Refugee Agency and Open Arms founder call for action
“Disputes … anxiety attacks … panic … what else do we need? For people to die?” asked Camps. “Those who didn’t die in the sea need to die here on board Open Arms? Is this what we need? I hope the Italian courts resolve the situation.”
The UN Refugee Agency on Tuesday called for a halt to using migrants aboard the rescue ship as though they were hostages and for an end to what it said was those using their desperate situation for political gain.
“It’s a very simple issue and it’s that they can land,” a spokesperson for the agency said, adding that six European Union (EU) countries have offered to receive the 100 migrants once they disembark.__EuroNews