Sun, Aug 18, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Captain warns ‘explosive’ situation on migrant boat

‘CLOSED PORTS’:The Italian prime minister chided his minister of the interior for barring the rescue boat ‘Open Arms’ from unloading the migrants it rescued in Italy

AFP, ROME

The captain of a Spanish charity ship carrying 134 rescued migrants on Friday warned of an “explosive” situation on board the vessel anchored within swimming distance of Italy’s Lampedusa island, but forbidden to approach.

Italy has evacuated a handful of people from the Open Arms ship for medical treatment, but Italian Minster of the Interior Matteo Salvini has refused to allow the vessel to dock, despite other European countries agreeing to take in the people on board.

The captain of the ship operated by Proactiva Open Arms, Marc Reig, said the migrants, rescued after leaving chaos-stricken Libya, were “broken psychologically.”

“Every second that passes, the bomb ticks a second closer. Either someone cuts the red cable and defuses this bomb now, or the Open Arms will explode,” he told Spain’s TVE television.

“This is inhuman. We’re close to land and people could swim there. They want to throw themselves in the water. It’s untenable. They can’t take it anymore,” she said.

The mainly African migrants aboard Open Arms have been plucked from boats in the Mediterranean Sea this month, with weather conditions encouraging more departures from Libya.

In an interview with the Times of Malta, a rescued Ethiopian, Mohammed, recounted the horrors of his attempted crossing.

“There were 15 of us in the boat and I’m the only survivor,” the 38-year-old told the newspaper from his hospital bed.

Having fled Ethiopia 15 years ago, Mohammed made his way first to Eritrea and then to Sudan. In Zawiya, west of Tripoli, he paid a smuggler US$700 for passage to Europe and was offered a place on a small inflatable dinghy, alongside two Ghanians, two other Ethiopians and 10 Somalians. First the fuel ran out, then the food and then the water.

“We saw a lot of boats. We cried ‘Help!’ and signaled to them, but they didn’t stop. A helicopter also flew over and then went away,” Mohammed said.

He said he could not recall when the Maltese navy, alerted to the boat by a plane belonging to Europe’s Frontex border agency, arrived.

Salvini, who is also the Italian deputy prime minister, on Friday said that he would “not give in” and accused non-governmental organizations such as Open Arms of “taking the world for a ride.”

The Open Arms “has been dancing around the Mediterranean Sea for days with the sole aim of picking up as many people as possible to, as always, bring them only to Italy,” he said in a statement.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Thursday blasted Salvini, saying that “France, Germany, Romania, Portugal, Spain and Luxembourg have told me that they are ready to welcome the migrants.”

Salvini has developed an “obsessive focus” on immigration, and has reduced the issue to a policy of “closed ports,” he said.

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