Italy has given permission for 180 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean to disembark from the charity-run ship Ocean Viking after a stand-off that lasted more than a week, the ship’s operator and the government said.
The migrants are expected to be transferred to a government vessel in Sicily on Monday and will spend two weeks in quarantine.
Those on board exploded with joy at the announcement that their ordeal amid the cramped conditions on the Ocean Viking would soon be over, with migrants singing, applauding and taking selfies.
“We have received instructions from the Italian maritime authorities to disembark those on board in Porto Empedocle,” a spokesman for the charity SOS Mediterranee told AFP, which has a correspondent on board.
“We’re very happy! We’ve come a long way, Libya was like hell and now at least we can see the end. I need to tell my family that I’m still alive,” said Rabiul, 27, from Bangladesh.
The Ocean Viking, operated by rescue group SOS Méditerranée, declared a state of emergency on Friday with tensions running high. There were fears for their safety and that of the crew.
The rescue vessel is now heading for the port where the migrants will be transferred to government-chartered ship the Moby Zaza for 14 days of quarantine.
“I can confirm that they’re authorised to move to the Moby Zaza, likely tomorrow morning,” Interior Ministry spokesman Dino Martirano told AFP.
The Ocean Viking, which has been in limbo in the Mediterranean south of Sicily, has been waiting for permission from Italy or Malta to offload the migrants at a safe port.
Tensions have risen in the past week, as witnessed by an AFP reporter, with the migrants increasingly desperate to reach land. Others have become distraught at not being able to telephone their families to let them know they were safe.
A member of the crew, Ludovic, told AFP he had never witnessed such violence on board a rescue vessel, after a spate of fights between migrants and threats of suicide.
The migrants, who include Pakistanis, North Africans, Eritreans, Nigerians and others, were picked up after fleeing Libya in four separate rescues by the Ocean Viking on June 25 and 30.
“Now, a second life is in front of us, after everything we went through in Libya. Thank you Italy for offering us a second life, and to SOS Mediteranee for saving the first,” said Emmanuel, 32, from Ghana.
The migrants include 25 children, most of whom are unaccompanied by adults, and two women, one of whom is pregnant.
At times, all the members of the SOS Mediterranee rescue team have been on deck in order to calm tense situations. Some of the threats were directed at the rescuers themselves.
On Thursday, two migrants threw themselves into the Mediterranean, but were rescued.
More than 100,000 migrants tried to cross the Mediterranean last year with more than 1,200 dying in the attempt, according to the International Organization for Migration. (Source: CNA)