A cargo ship which rescued 78 migrants at sea is to disembark its passengers in Sicily after a five-day standoff, according to rescue hotline Alarm Phone.
The merchant ship Marina was ordered to pick up the migrants on Sunday by Malta's rescue co-ordination centre but was then refused entry because the island's ports are closed.
Tensions rose at one point among those on board, with lawyers for the boat’s owners claiming that a knife fight had broken out.
However, on Friday afternoon, Alarm Phone said an agreement had been reached with authorities in Sicily allowing the passengers to disembark.
“Finally, after a 5 days standoff, the merchant vessel Marina is allowed to disembark the 78 survivors in Sicily. We are very relieved that five days after rescue, the people reach a place of safety!” it said.
Lawyer Ann Fenech, who is representing MV Marina owners, German company Klingenberg Schiffahrts Gmbh, confirmed that the vessel received instructions from the Italian authorities to head for Sicily.
They will be disembarked at Porto Empedocle, she said.
"This saga has just highlighted the plight of commercial merchant shipping in such situations when they observe international law and save lives at sea," she said.
The boat carrying migrants is the latest to become embroiled in an international row after both Malta and Italy closed their ports, citing coronavirus containment measures.
Prime Minister Robert Abela has admitted commissioning a private boat or boats to return some migrants found in Maltese waters to war-torn Libya.
And his office has also contracted two Captain Morgan tourist vessels to house migrants offshore.
However, on Thursday night, a small group adults, including pregnant women, and children were allowed to disembark after the Maltese government made a concession on humanitarian grounds.
Malta argues that the country can no longer handle the number of migrants arriving on its shores and has asked the European Commission for help. In turn, the EU argues disembarkation is a member state responsibility.
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