Spain sends warship to pick up migrants off Italy’s coast as around a dozen try to swim to island of Lampedusa

Spain is to send a warship to pick up around 80 migrants stranded for more than two weeks on board a charity rescue vessel off Italy, as around a dozen threw themselves into the sea in a desperate bid to reach dry land.

The migrants will be collected and taken to Mallorca, a journey of 600 miles that will take at least three days.

The Open Arms rescue ship has been in limbo at sea for 19 days, with its crew warning that conditions on board were becoming increasingly untenable, as tensions broke out over access to shade and the vessel’s two lavatories.

The situation was further complicated on Tuesday, when an Italian prosecutor  ordered the migrants disembark in Sicily.

Luigi Patronaggio also ordered the vessel preventatively seized after inspecting the boat on and "given the difficult situation on board," a judicial source said.

Since Thursday, the vessel has been anchored a short distance from the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa.

At least a dozen migrants jumped into the sea on Tuesday and tried to swim towards the island.

Italian coast guard officers leapt in after them and the migrants were reportedly taken to Lampedusa.

An Italian Coast Guard boat, right, approaches the Spanish humanitarian rescue ship Open Arms off the island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, after migrants jumped into the seaCredit:
Salvatore Cavalli/AP

The rescue vessel was banned from disembarking the migrants on Lampedusa by the tough regulations introduced a year ago by Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister and the head of the hard-Right League party.

He has closed Italy’s ports to migrants and refugees coming by sea from Libya, a policy that has boosted his popularity in the polls.

Mr Patronaggio ordered the ship seized as part of his probe into alleged kidnapping and refusing to obey orders, targetting Mr Salvini

"If anybody thinks they can scare me with the umpteenth complaint and wants a trial, they’re mistaken," Mr Salvini said on Facebook.

The impasse over the Open Arms vessel – the latest of several similar situations involving the Italian government and migrant rescue boats – was broken by the Spanish offer.

The Spanish navy ship Audaz "will depart this afternoon at 5 p.m. 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, Spain’s Socialist government said in a statement.

"The government … considers this to be the most adequate solution that will allow a resolution of the humanitarian emergency taking place aboard the Open Arms this week," it said.

Migrants who jumped off the Spanish humanitarian rescue ship Open Arms are rescued after a desperate bid to reach the shore of the island of Lampedusa, southern ItalyCredit:
Salvatore Cavalli /AP

The Spanish NGO that operates the vessel earlier said that the situation on board is “out of control", adding that some of the asylum seekers were suicidal.

Mr Salvini accuses NGO rescue ships of acting as “taxis” for migrants and refugees fleeing Libya.

The NGOs say that if they were not on patrol in the Mediterranean, many migrants would drown.

Since the Open Arms entered Italian waters, dozens of migrants have been taken ashore because they were said to be minors or ill, but Mr Salvini has claimed that many were not in fact under the age of 18 and that health problems had been exaggerated.

"Spanish NGO, Spanish ship, Spanish port: The coherence and strength of Italy has paid off. We are no longer the refugee camp of Europe," he said in a statement.

Spain has offered to resettle the migrants, along with France, Germany, Romania, Portugal and Luxembourg.

The Open Arms charity said it was "totally incomprehensible" that the migrants, who are a few hundred yards off Lampedusa, should be taken all the way to Spain.

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