Migrant rescue ship says new Spain port offer ‘incomprehensible’

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A charity vessel carrying 107 rescued migrants stuck in limbo off Italy said Monday that Madrid’s latest offer to allow it to dock at the nearest Spanish port was “incomprehensible.”

Spain said late Sunday the ship could dock in Mallorca after the Proactiva Open Arms charity rejected an initial offer to go to the southwestern port of Algeciras because it was too far away.

“After 18 days of deadlock, Italy and Spain seem to have reached an agreement designating Mallorca as a landing port. This decision seems totally incomprehensible to us,” the NGO said in a statement.

“While our boat is 800 meters (yards) off the coast of Lampedusa, European states are asking a small NGO like ours to face... three days of sailing in harsh weather conditions,” it added.

The Spanish government immediately denied the existence of an agreement with Italy and said that it had not received a “clear and direct reply” from the NGO to its Mallorca offer.

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

“The answer we gave them is that we cannot guarantee the safety of these people on our boat. Since Italy and Spain have assumed responsibility of these people, they should find a solution.”

Italy’s Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli on Sunday offered the Open Arms a coastguard escort to Spain which he thanked for its offer to take the boat in “even if (it was) too many days late.”

Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said Madrid had initially offered Algeciras because it is “an authorized port” that is equipped to handle the arrival of migrants.

“They told us it was a long way off. We then offered them the nearest (Spanish) port which is the Balearics. We were also told no,” she said on Monday before her Socialist government said it had not received a “clear” response from Proactiva Open Arms to its latest offer.

The Balearic Islands are about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) west of Lampedusa.

Six European Union countries -- France, Germany, Romania, Portugal, Spain and Luxembourg - have offered to take in the migrants aboard the Open arms boat.

Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister, has refused to allow migrant rescue vessels to dock as part of his hardline policies.

Salvini, who leads the anti-immigrant League party, says Italy bears an unfair burden as the first port of call for the rescued migrants and it is up to her EU partners to do their part to resolve the crisis.