Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 7 December 2019

Italy grants rescue ship with 62 migrants on board access to port

Several people taken from vessel as bodies are found in search for migrants missing at sea

A rescuer in the water coordinates with a coast guard boat after retrieving a body at sea near the Sicilian island of Lampedusa on Sunday. AP
A rescuer in the water coordinates with a coast guard boat after retrieving a body at sea near the Sicilian island of Lampedusa on Sunday. AP

Italy has agreed to grant a stranded rescue ship access to a port to take the 62 migrants it has been carrying since Wednesday, the founder of the Spanish rescue mission said on Sunday.

Oscar Camps said the vessel was set to dock at the southern Italian port of Taranto on Tuesday afternoon, although the destination might change.

Italy initially refused entry for the group of 73 migrants who the Open Arms crew rescued from a packed rubber dinghy drifting about 80km off Libya, suggesting that the vessel should instead put them ashore at Tripoli.

But earlier on Sunday the coastguard moved 11 of the group, who required medical attention, to the port of Augusta and Italy's Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese signalled the country might be softening its position.

Among those moved were two young children and their families, people suffering burns and a man with a gunshot wound to his foot. They will be taken to the Italian port of Augusta.

Conditions aboard the vessels have been deteriorating as a powerful storm hit the Mediterranean, creating waves of up to 3 metres.

Among the group of mostly Central and West African migrants are three women, two toddlers and 24 unaccompanied children who braved the dangerous crossing in search of a better life in Europe.

The Italian government has taken a hard line against immigration and has previously resisted attempts by rescue ships to land migrants in its territory.

A prolonged standoff with the Open Arms this summer was only resolved after a court ordered authorities to open a port, allowing 100 migrants to disembark.

On the Italian island of Lampedusa, the bodies of five women were retrieved early on Sunday after their boat capsized in bad conditions on Saturday, the Italian coastguard said.

Three were found at sea and two more on a beach. Searches were continuing but bad weather was complicating the effort.

The coastguard saved 149 people on Saturday, including 13 women and three children, from the sinking vessel after it was reported in distress less than 1.5km off Lampedusa.

Survivors said up to 20 people, believed to be from Algeria, Tunisia and Pakistan, were missing.

There have been nearly 1,000 confirmed deaths on the three main migration routes across the Mediterranean this year, the International Organisation for Migration said.

"We need decisive action from the Italian government and from Europe to stop human traffickers," Lampedusa Mayor Salvatore Martello said from Barcelona.

Mr Martello was meeting Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau to discuss the migrant crisis.

Updated: November 25, 2019 03:31 AM

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