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Migrant ship heads for Italy's waters after judge overrules Salvini

Spanish humanitarian ship Open Arms has 147 rescued people on board

Migrant ship heads for Italy's waters after judge overrules Salvini
The Open Arms ship headed for the Italian island of Lampedusa. Photograph: Pau Barrena/AFP/Getty Images

Spanish humanitarian ship Open Arms headed for the Italian island of Lampedusa with 147 rescued migrants on board after a judge in Rome suspended far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini’s decree banning them from Italy’s territorial waters.

The Proactiva Open Arms charity which operates the ship said it would not try to force entry to Lampedusa port, as another rescue vessel, the Sea-Watch 3, did in June, prompting its seizure and the arrest of its captain.

The Open Arms is seeking shelter from 2.5-metre (eight-foot) swells along with the Ocean Viking ship operated by SOS Méditerranée and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which has more than 350 migrants plucked from the Mediterranean on board.

Italy and Malta have refused both vessels permission to dock and unload their passengers.

Since coming to power in June 2018, Salvini has repeatedly taken a hard line against migrants.

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Salvini announced a swift appeal against the judge’s ruling on Wednesday and signed another decree, saying that the Open Arms behaviour showed its “political objective to bring (migrants) to Italy”.

Proactiva Open Arms’ founder Oscar Camps told journalists in Madrid: “We won the appeal which we filed at an administrative court in Italy against the security decree.”

The decree, signed by Salvini in early August, banned the Open Arms from entering Italy’s territorial waters, arguing that the measure was needed to protect public order.

Under the decree, the Proactiva Open Arms could be fined €1m and have its boat seized if it disobeyed.

But Camps said the court decision now allows the 147 migrants on board to disembark in Italy.

“All that is missing is that we be assigned a port,” Camps said.

“It’s a success. International maritime law prevails,” he added, before saying that in Italy “everyone does not think like Salvini”.

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He said that, under international agreements, rescued migrants should be taken to the closest available port which in the case of the Open Arms is in Italy or Malta.

“What a strange country,” Salvini complained from a beach in the north-west of Italy. “The court in Lazio (Rome) wants to authorise a foreign boat to disembark foreign migrants in Italy.”

Salvini is trying to bring down the government, so far without success, after last week pulling the plug on the ruling coalition between his League and the Five Star Movement (M5S).

His party has been riding high in opinion polls, largely thanks to his tough anti-migrant policies.

Prime minister Giuseppe Conte, on Wednesday, wrote to Salvini and defence minister Elisabetta Trenta asking for the minors aboard to be allowed to disembark the rescue ship, Italian media reported.

Trenta sent two navy vessels to escort the Open Arms as it headed for Lampedusa, with a view to evacuating 32 minors from the vessel after 13 days at sea.

Two babies were evacuated by helicopter from the ship to Malta on Wednesday for health reasons, Camps said.

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