Migrants on Open Arms ship disembark in Italian island

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Nearly one hundred migrants who had been stranded on the Open Arms rescue ship off the coast of Lampedusa disembarked on the Italian island on Tuesday night, ending a prolonged stand-off between the Spanish charity operating the boat and the government in Rome.

The migrants, mainly from Africa, were removed from the boat after an Italian prosecutor ordered the seizure of the ship and the evacuation of the people on board.

The ship docked at Lampedusa’s harbor just after 2330 CET (2230 GMT) on Tuesday.

The Open Arms ship, run by a Spanish charity of the same name, had rescued the migrants heading for Europe off the Libyan coast.

After Italy refused to let it dock the ship had been stranded at sea for nearly three weeks, with the charity saying that the migrants were distressed and urgently needed to find shelter.

Open Arms’ director and founder, Oscar Camps, confirmed earlier on Twitter that the ship would be seized temporarily, adding it was “a cost that Open Arms assumes to ensure that people on board can be served.”

“We consider it essential to prioritize the migrants’ health and safety in this humanitarian emergency,” he said.

Spain sent a naval vessel on Tuesday afternoon to rescue the migrants and take them to Mallorca after some of them jumped overboard.

The Spanish navy is only due to reach Lampedusa in three days and Open Arms repeatedly said that the situation on board was desperate and some migrants were suicidal.

The passengers were sleeping jammed together on deck and sharing two toilets.

After the charity said nine had tried to swim ashore, reports showed another five people jump, although it was not immediately clear if some were lifeguards.

Italy has taken a tough line on migrant entry, saying it has borne too much responsibility for handling African migration to Europe.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the charity-run ships have become “taxis” for people smugglers.

Hauwa Mustapha