After France refused rescue ship to dock, refugees reach Sardinia

Life jacket sea watch - reuters
The Alan Kurdi ship is named after the Syrian boy who made headlines when his drowned body washed up on a beach in Turkey in 2015 [File: Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters]

A ship with 125 rescued refugees and migrants on board reached the Italian island of Sardinia on Thursday, the aid organisation Sea-Eye said, adding the fate of its survivors remains unclear.

The Alan Kurdi docked at the port of Arbatax on the east of the island, having been “instructed by the port authorities to drop anchor and wait for further instructions”, said Sea-Eye, which charters the boat.

However, the NGO said it was unclear whether Arbatax would be a “safe port”, in which the rescued survivors would be able to disembark.

On Wednesday night, Italian authorities made contact to discuss the “further coordination” and to provide weather protection for the ship, five days since Sea-Eye asked for assistance, it said on Twitter.

According to Italy’s ANSA news agency, the ship has been allowed to take shelter from rough seas off Sardinia and would get approval to dock if conditions worsened.

The ship asked to enter Arbatax and take shelter in the natural harbour,” Italian Interior Minister Luciana told a parliamentary committee.

“We have granted shelter and we have spoken to other European countries, which have said they are willing to take all but 25, who would stay in Italy.

“The port is closed … but if the sea conditions worsen, they will be allowed to disembark, with the understanding that, even though they must do 14 days of quarantine, they will immediately be relocated elsewhere.”

The ship – named Alan Kurdi after the Syrian boy who made global headlines when his drowned body washed up on a beach in Turkey in 2015 – rescued 133 people, including 62 children, from three different boats off the Libyan coast.

Eight people, including a five-month-old baby, were evacuated by the Italian coastguard. More than 50 minors are still on board, including young children, the NGO said.

The ship was initially heading to Marseille in the south of France before French authorities successfully asked Italy to allow it to dock in the Mediterranean, Sea-Eye’s chief Gorden Isler said in a tweet.

“We hope that the 125 rescued will be allowed to disembark in Sardinia so they can be adequately cared for there,” Isler added.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday the Sea-Eye ship should “be received in the nearest safe port”, with France implicitly declining any possibility of allowing the ship to dock in Marseille.

The principle of the landing of survivors in the nearest “safe port”, enshrined in international maritime law, generally means Italy or Malta are expected to take in rescued survivors from Mediterranean crossings.

More than 600 refugees and migrants have perished this year while attempting the Mediterranean crossing, the deadliest route for those hoping for a better life in Europe.

Almost 50,000 have made the journey so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).