Italy + 2 more

Italian officials order evacuation of migrant ship after 15 jump overboard to escape 'desperate' situation

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Key points: - The migrants had been onboard the ship since being plucked from the Mediterranean nearly three weeks ago
- Spain sent a navy ship to escort the Open Arms back to a Spanish port
- The captain had told Italian authorities the crew of 17 was no longer able to maintain control

The Spanish-flagged Open Arms plucked the asylum seekers from the Mediterranean 19 days ago, but Italy had refused to allow the charity ship to dock, triggering the humanitarian crisis.

Sicilian prosecutor Luigi Patronaggio ordered the seizure of the ship off Italy's southernmost island of Lampedusa — and its immediate evacuation — after he boarded the vessel and met with port authorities as part of an investigation into possible kidnapping charges resulting from the refusal of hard-line Interior Minister Matteo Salvini to allow the migrants to get off the ship, news agency ANSA reported.

"Finally, the nightmare ends and 83 people on board will receive immediate assistance on land," Open Arms said on Twitter.

Hours later, migrants and crew celebrated as the rescue ship docked in Lampedusa.

The migrants were seen hugging the crew goodbye as they left the ship.

Six countries had stepped forward to take the migrants and the crisis had contributed to a split in Italy's governing coalition, but Mr Salvini had stood firm in his refusal to open Italian ports.

Situation onboard was 'desperate'

Earlier on Tuesday, Spain sent a Navy ship to escort the Open Arms back to a Spanish port after at least 15 of the migrants jumped into the sea within view of Lampedusa.

After one Syrian national jumped, and was rescued and brought to shore, two more groups followed his lead.

Those who jumped overboard were picked up by Italian ships and spared a return to the Open Arms, where officials said psychological and hygiene conditions had deteriorated markedly.

Until the Italian prosecutor's decision, the Spanish move was the first concrete sign of an end to the situation.

"After analysing all the options, this is the most adequate and the one that would allow resolving within this week the humanitarian emergency on board the Open Arms," the Spanish Government had said in a statement.

The captain of Open Arms had previously told Italian authorities the crew of 17 was no longer able to maintain control, and they described the situation as "desperate".

Australian Broadcasting Corporation