A search and rescue ship has docked in Italy and delivered 182 men, women and children to safety after they were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Ocean Viking, a rescue vessel operated jointly by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders, arrived in the Sicilian port of Messina with Italy's permission on Tuesday morning.
Italian maritime authorities instructed the ship to proceed to Messina on Sunday night, bringing a five-day ordeal for the migrants and crew stuck aboard the vessel to an end.
The move came after Malta allowed 35 other migrants, who were also rescued by the Ocean Viking, to disembark on its shores on Friday.
Migrants aboard the ship reacted with joy after they were told on Monday they would be allowed to disembark in Messina.
“I’m so full of joy! I don’t know what to say now. I’m so happy! I’m so happy! No more back to Libya!” exclaimed Awudu Baluduzzi, 27, from Ghana.
On land, the rescued migrants were met by Italian police and workers from the Red Cross.
The migrants had been rescued from three separate boats in the previous week.
Italy’s decision to allow the NGO ship in came just hours after a summit in Malta where both countries are pushing for more help from fellow European Union nations with migrants rescued at sea.
Five European Union nations — France, Germany, Italy, Malta and Finland — agreed on Monday to a temporary arrangement to share out migrants rescued while trying to cross the sea from Libya in unseaworthy boats operated by human traffickers.
Officials, however, are pushing for a wider deal involving more EU countries.
Matteo Salvini, who leads the anti-immigration League party and whose tenure as Italian interior minister was characterised by a tough stance on NGOs operating in the Mediterranean, said the arrival of the migrants was an “invasion” and sarcastically thanked the Italian government for opening Italian ports.
As the disembarkation was announced, SOS Mediterranee criticised the current system used by European states: “The current practice of individual European States negotiating the resettlement of people rescued at sea on a case-to-case basis for days before allowing them to disembark is unsustainable and in clear contradiction to maritime law.”
"There is a complete inadequacy of Search and Rescue capacities in the Central Mediterranean," said Nicola Stalla, search and rescue coordinator aboard the Ocean Viking.
“We don’t know – and we will never know – how many people actually disappeared into the waters without witness,” he added.