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Spain says it could fine Open Arms migrant ship

Spain on Wednesday refused to rule out fining the charity operating the Open Arms ship for rescuing migrants at sea off Libya, saying the NGO did not have a permit to do so.

The prospect of a possible fine comes after a protracted standoff between the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms and Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini finally came to an end.

The Open Arms ship had for days been stuck off the Italian island of Lampedusa as Salvini refused to let it dock.

But as tensions on board soared and Spain dispatched a military ship to fetch the migrants, an Italian prosecutor eventually ordered they be brought ashore.

“The Open Arms doesn’t have a permit to rescue,” Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo told Spanish radio in response to a question over whether Madrid would fine the NGO that owns the ship.

“This is a state ruled by law, everyone knows what they can do, what they can’t.”

The Open Arms had in April been authorised to leave Barcelona, where it was immobilised for three months, to transport humanitarian aid to Greece.

It was banned from heading to the seas off Libya, where migrants attempt the perilous journey to Europe on rickety boats, but went anyway.

A document by the directorate-general for Spain’s merchant navy sent to AFP by the Proactiva Open Arms charity said it risks a fine of up to 901,000 euros ($1 million) for violating this ban.

Returning with more than 140 migrants on board, the ship wanted to dock in Lampedusa, which along with Malta is the nearest safe port.

But Salvini, who has banned all NGO rescue boats from entering Italian ports, prevented this.

As the days went by, tensions rose on the ship with some migrants on board for 19 days after being picked up at sea, many suffering from post-traumatic stress.

That prompted the prosecutor’s eventual order on Tuesday to bring the 83 who remained ashore.

There were initially 147 mainly African migrants on the ship but as the days passed, some were evacuated for medical care and all minors were allowed to disembark.

Six European Union countries — France, Germany, Romania, Portugal, Spain and Luxembourg — have offered to take them all in.

Calvo said the military ship sent to Lampedusa could take charge of those migrants allocated to Spain if this agreement is implemented.