Group:Italy Must Let Migrants Off Ship

ROME (AP) -- Three ailing migrants and a family member were evacuated Friday from a Spanish rescue ship anchored near a southern Italian island but 134 others remained stuck on the boat as Italy's political battle over migration raged on.

The humanitarian ship Open Arms had rescued 147 migrants in the Mediterranean Sea near Libya two weeks ago and won a legal battle to enter Italy's territorial waters despite right-wing Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's initial ban on that. Yet most migrants still remained aboard the ship as Salvini stuck to his resolve to keep humanitarian vessels from docking in Italy.

Despite offers by Spain and five other European Union nations on Thursday to take the migrants, whom Salvini doesn't want to accept, the standoff dragged on, with Open Arms anchored a few hundred yards (meters) off Lampedusa island.

Late Thursday, an Italian coast guard dinghy ferried to shore nine migrants, including several who were evacuated for psychological reasons. On Friday, after four more were taken off, the aid group appealed to Italian authorities in the name of "humanity" to disembark the remaining migrants.

Alessandro Di Benedetto, a psychologist for the charity group Emergency, who had gone aboard to speak with the migrants, said early Friday that several had exhibited acts of self-harm or expressed thoughts about suicide, while others were starting to take out their anger at being kept aboard at fellow migrants.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte earlier this week asked Salvini to let all the 32 minors on the ship off, but the minister hasn't complied.

Salvini and his right-wing League party are seeking to end Conte's populist coalition with a no-confidence vote soon. One of the party's key issues is immigration, and Salvini told reporters Thursday he was "proud" to keep Italy's borders safe, since "that's what Italian citizens pay me for." He is pushing for an early Italian election that he hopes will see him win the premiership.

The Italian court ruling overturned the ban on entering territorial waters but didn't rule on Salvini's ban against charity boats' docking in Italy.

Conte announced on Thursday that six nations — Spain, Portugal, Germany, France, Romania and Luxembourg — had offered to take the migrants aboard Open Arms.

Another humanitarian rescue boat, the Ocean Viking, has 356 migrants aboard, was reported sailing Friday in the waters between Malta and Linosa, another small southern Italian island. The Norwegian vessel had plucked the migrants to safety in several rescues in the past days.

It was unclear where Ocean Viking might hope to find a safe port to disembark the migrants.

The International Organization for Migration says over 39,280 migrants have reached Europe this year from North Africa across the Mediterranean with another 840 dying in the sea — numbers that are significantly lower than in previous years.

(KR)