Updated 1.18 pm with Spain's announcement

Spain's government offered Sunday to take in the charity vessel Open Arms with more than 100 migrants on board because of Italy's "inconceivable" refusal to allow it to dock.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez "today ordered the port of Algeciras to be ready to receive the boat Open Arms," which is currently in limbo off the Italian island of Lampedusa, his office said in a statement.

It cited the "urgent situation" on the vessel and the "inconceivable decision by the Italian authorities... to close all its ports" to the migrants.

The Open Arms is operated by a Spanish NGO Proactiva.

France said it is prepared to take in 40 of the migrants who fulfil the criteria for gaining refugee status, the French interior ministry said Sunday.

The migrants must be "in need of protection", the ministry said in a statement.

Open Arms expressed concern that Algeciras was the most distant port in the Mediterranean and said it could not go there since the long trip would put the well-being of migrants at risk. It again asked to be allowed to disembark the migrants in Lampedusa.

On Saturday, Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini reluctantly let 27 migrant children from the vessel. 

In a letter, Salvini told Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte he could authorise the "alleged" minors to leave the Open Arms ship, despite it being "contrary to my policy."

However, the remaining 105 adults and two accompanied children stayed on board in what Proactiva said were "untenable" conditions.

Most of the migrants were rescued off Libya on August 1. A group of 39 were picked up in the Maltese search and rescue zone just over a week ago. Malta had offered to take that group of 39 but the NGO refused, saying Malta should take all the migrants or none at all.

Italy had later said that six countries were prepared to take the migrants, but nothing happened.

The ship was allowed into Italian waters off Lampedusa last week after a judge overturned a ban issued by Salvini. However the interior minister did not allow anyone to disembark other than children. 

The ship's captain Marc Reig said Friday the migrants, rescued after leaving chaos-stricken Libya, were "broken psychologically".

The founder of NGO Proactiva Open Arms said there were "constant fights, arguments" between the migrants.

"From today, we can't be responsible or guarantee the security of the people we have on board the Open Arms," he said on Facebook.

Salvini tweeted that if the ship had gone to Spain instead of Italy 16 days ago "you would already have been home." Proactiva Open Arms is based in Spain.

"The NGOs' battle is political and certainly not humanitarian, played out using the lives of migrants," he said.

Another NGO rescue ship, the Ocean Viking, remains in the central Mediterranean seeking a safe harbour. It is carrying more than 300 migrants rescued in four operations off Libya. The ship is operated by Medicins sans Frontieres and SOS Mediterranee. 

Libyan navy says more than 300 migrants rescued
   
The Libyan navy said Sunday 335 migrants had been rescued and one body recovered in separate operations off the coast, as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe.

Nine children were among 57 migrants in a wooden boat rescued Saturday about 40 nautical miles from the town of Zuwara, west of Tripoli, navy spokesman General Ayoub Kacem told AFP.

He said they were from Ethiopia and Egypt. 

It came days after Libyan navy patrols on Tuesday "rescued 278 migrants on board four inflatable boats northwest and northeast of Tripoli", Kacem added.

The operations took place off the coasts of the cities of Khoms, 120 kilometres (75 miles) east of Tripoli, and Sabratha, located 70 kilometres west of the capital.

According to the statement, 128 Sudanese were in the boats, in addition to migrants from Chad, Egypt, Niger, Benin and Eritrea, including 35 women and 11 children.

One body was also recovered by the coastguard.  

On August 9, the Libyan navy accused the authorities of failing to manage migrants rescued at sea, claiming that it could be forced to let people go free once brought back to land. 

Despite the risks, migrants continue to attempt to reach Europe by sea, preferring to take their chances than stay in Libya, where they are subject to abuse, extortion and torture, according to humanitarian organisations. 

 

                

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