Italy moves 149 migrants from rescue ship off Sicily to another boat

German-run boat was stranded with nowhere to legally dock

Abdullah Kurdi and his siter Tima react in front of a Sea-Eye rescue boat named after his son and her nephew Alan Kurdi during its inauguration in Palma de Mallorca on February 10,  2019.  The former research vessel "Professor Albrecht Penck" was rebaptised "Alan Kurdi", after the Syrian boy who was drowned during a ship wreck in the Mediterranean Sea. / AFP / JAIME REINA

Italian authorities have ordered 149 migrants on a German rescue ship off the west coast of Sicily to be transferred to another vessel and quarantined, instead of letting them disembark.

After the migrants are transferred, they will be screened by health officials and Red Cross employees for the coronavirus and other health conditions, Italy’s Transport Ministry said on Sunday.

The migrants are mainly from Africa and the Middle East, and include children and pregnant women.

The original ship, called Alan Kurdi,  is named after a three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned trying to reach Europe during the migration crisis.

The boy was found on a beach on the Greek island of Kos in September 2015 and a photo of him drew wide attention to the crisis. The ship is operated by German charity Sea-Eye.

The ministry said the operation would start “in the coming hours” and the Italian coastguard would provide support. It did not provide a location of the transfer or any further details.

It said allowing the migrants to disembark on Italian soil would put too much strain on Sicily's health services, which has been struggling to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Alan Kurdi  picked up 150 migrants on Monday from wooden boats off the coast of Libya, saving them from near certain death.

One of the migrants was taken off board to Lampedusa in a medical emergency.

The rest remained on the ship, which later became stranded with nowhere to dock.

Sea-Eye called on Germany to take in the refugees but Berlin refused to due to concerns around the coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, Germany called on the EU to provide assistance to the ship and Italy supplied its passengers with food the next day.

Officials delivered enough food, including rice and granola bars, to last for two to three days, Sea-Eye said.

Italy this week closed all its ports to charity-run boats amid the coronavirus crisis.

It is one of the countries hardest-hit by Covid-19, with nearly 20,000 dying and more than 156,000 cases.