MILAN — A Spanish humanitarian ship has been stuck in the Mediterranean Sea for more than a week because no European government will offer safe harbor to the 121 migrants on board, and the vessel faces a fine of up to 1 million euros if it enters Italian waters.
The Open Arms was idle for an eighth day Friday in waters off Italy’s southernmost island. The ship’s dilemma is becoming increasingly common as European governments shut their doors to migrants, led by Italy’s firebrand Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is popular for his hard-line stance against migrant arrivals and who this week plunged Italy into a political crisis in an apparent play for power.
Oscar Camps, the founder of the Spanish nongovernmental organization Proactiva Open Arms, indicated that the vessel would avoid entering Italian waters without permission unless there is a humanitarian crisis onboard, as allowed by international maritime law.
“Salvini can say what he wants, but maritime law and the courts will say what they have to say,” Camps told Catalunya Radio on Wednesday. “If we have serious health problems on board … we will enter [port] here or wherever we are, the closest place, today and any other day because we are backed by law.”
Malta also refused to let the ship in, while Spain demurred, saying it is not the closest safe port, the humanitarian group said.
The E.U. Commission said Friday that it has not received requests from a national government to intervene, as it typically requires, but spokeswoman Annika Breidthardt said that the commission was reaching out to member states “to show solidarity.” She noted that a solution depended on “the willingness” of member states to step up.
In a bid to draw attention to the standoff, actor Richard Gere boarded the ship Friday some 27 nautical miles off Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost island. He helped bring food and supplies aboard and asked for support for those onboard, including 9-month-old Ethiopian twins.
“The most important thing for these people here is to be able to get to a free port, to get off the boat, to get on land and start a new life,” Gere said, urging the world to “please support us here on Open Arms and help these people, our brothers and sisters.”
Pope Francis, long a champion of the migrants, repeated in an interview with the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa that the treatment of migrants “must never leave out the most important right of all: that of life.”
Such standoffs have persisted over the past 14 months since Italy’s populist government took office and Salvini became interior minister. He blames the European Union and other member states for leaving Italy alone to manage migrant arrivals.