Court overrides Salvini’s ban on migrant rescue ship

Rome: An Italian court has upheld an appeal by the Spanish rescue ship Open Arms, overriding the Italian Interior Ministry's decision to ban the ship from entering Italian waters.

Migrants wait aboard the Open Arms Spanish humanitarian boat in the Mediterranean sea.Credit:AP

The rescue ship with 147 migrants onboard has been stuck in the Mediterranean for nearly two weeks due to the ban imposed by Italy's hard-line Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, whose anti-immigration policies have put Rome on a collision course with its European Union partners.

The Italian court ruled that the ban violates international laws in light of the "exceptionally grave and urgent situation due to the protracted stay of the migrants on our boat," Open Arms said in a statement on Wednesday.

The group said its ship was now heading toward Italian waters and expects to reach them on Thursday morning, Rome time. Additionally, it has made new requests to both Italy and Malta for a port that will let them disembark the migrants on medical grounds.

Open Arms' founder Oscar Camps, speaking to reporters in Madrid, said the boat would head for the Italian island of Lampedusa.

"This is another step forward. We may be able to disembark sooner than expected," Camps said. "We can enter Italian waters without fear of being fined or having the boat confiscated".

Shortly after the ruling, Salvini – who last week pulled the plug on Italy's populist coalition government saying he wants to go to the polls and triggering a political crisis – reiterated his objection to humanitarian ships entering Italian ports. The Italian Interior Ministry said it would appeal the court ruling.

Actor Richard Gere, right, talks with migrants aboard the Open Arms Spanish humanitarian boat last week.Credit:AP

"The minister is ready to sign off on a new measure banning entrance in Italian territorial waters," the ministry said in a statement.

The United Nations refugee agency has urged European governments to immediately allow in about 500 people rescued from the Mediterranean who remain stranded at sea as countries bicker over who should take them.

Another 356 migrants are onboard the Ocean Viking rescue ship, operated by Doctors Without Borders and SOS Mediterranee, which has already asked Maltese and Italian authorities to provide a safe port.

The UNHCR says nearly 600 people have died or gone missing in waters between Libya and Italy this year.

The European Commission is urging member countries to take action and is offering support, but has no power to intervene.

AP

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