Italy to seize Spanish rescue ship, remove migrants

A woman is assisted following a panic attack onboard the Open Arms vessel in front of island of Lampedusa southern Italy Tuesday Aug. 20 2019. The Spanish humanitarian rescue ship Open Arms says another man had to be rescued after jumping in the sea

Migrants jump off Open Arms ship, try to reach Lampedusa swimming

Italian populist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini reacted with fury to the NGO's rejection of the Spanish offer saying, "The Spanish NGO refuses the port offered by Spain!".

Spain has said it is sending a naval ship to escort the Open Arms and the people on it to a port on the Spanish island of Mallorca, The Associated Press reported.

The migrants were rescued from the sea and brought to shore by the Italian Coast Guard and Finance police.

An Italian prosecutor ordered on Tuesday the seizure of the Open Arms migrant ship and the removal of the migrants on board, ending a prolonged stand-off between the Spanish charity and the government in Rome.

Cyprus authorities say a marine police patrol vessel has safely brought to port 33 migrants packed aboard a small boat that was sailing off the east Mediterranean island's southeastern coast.

The closest Spanish ports - on the Balearic Islands of Menorca and Mallorca - are some 1,000 kilometres from where the Open Arms is now anchored, off the coast of Lampedusa.

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Natasha Bertaud, another commission spokeswoman, said on Tuesday that the European Union executive was working "to find a solution for the people on board of the Open Arms" and thanked Spain for offering a port for the safe disembarkation of the rescue vessel.

Open Arms described the situation on board as "out of control" and "desperate".

The Italian minister of infrastructure and transport, Danilo Toninelli, said later the same day that Italy could take all people on board to a Spanish port.

A handful of other migrants jumped off the ship on Sunday but were returned aboard, while another one made it to Lampedusa overnight after being picked up by the coastguard.

Video showed people wearing orange life vests floating in the sea with a coastguard vessel nearby and rubber dinghies trying to reach them.

Italian rescue workers are reported to have helped the migrants reach safety.

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Salvini tweeted that "being firm is the only way to stop Italy from becoming Europe's refugee camp again".

"It is not a question of accepting or not accepting" the offer, an Open Arms spokeswoman said.

"Spanish NGO, Spanish ship, Spanish port: The coherence and strength of Italy has paid off".

The head of the mission on the Open Arms ship, Anabel Montes, now insists on disembarking the 98 people on board in Lampedusa in Italy later today.

The military ship, called Audaz, is expected to arrive in Lampedusa in three days.

Salvini, who refused to allow the asylum seekers to disembark in Italy despite offers from six European countries to take them, previously said on Facebook he was expecting the move.

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Spain's Defence Minister Margarita Robles has slammed Italy - and particularly Salvini - for the situation.

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