Italy's defence minister blocks decree against migrant ship Open Arms

The migrants have been plucked from boats in the Mediterranean this month with weather conditions encouraging more departures from Libya (AFP Photo/Anne CHAON) (AFP/File)

Rome (AFP) - Italy's defence minister on Thursday blocked a new decree by far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini to ban the rescue ship Open Arms with 147 migrants on board from Italian territorial waters, in a move seen as part of the political crisis in Rome.

Salvini earlier this month signed a decree banning the Spanish charity Proactiva's Open Arms from Italian waters, saying it was needed to protect public order.

But Proactiva appealed to an administrative court which on Wednesday suspended the decree.

Salvini then signed another decree blocking the ship but his power has weakened since he withdrew his support last week from the coalition government between his far-right League party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S).

On Thursday Defence Minister Elisabetta Trenta, a M5S party member, who must sign off on Salvini's decree, announced that she has decided not to do so.

"I took this decision for solid legal reasons, listening to my conscience," Trenta said in a statement.

"We must never forget that behind the polemics of the past few days, there are children and young people who suffered violence and abuse of all types. Politics must never lose sight of humanity."

The humanitarian rescue ship Open Arms was anchored Thursday off the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The migrants had been plucked from boats in the Mediterranean this month with weather conditions encouraging more departures from Libya.

Both Italy and Malta have refused Open Arms permission to dock and unload its passengers.

On Wednesday, however, Trenta dispatched two ships to escort the Open Arms out of concern to evacuate the 32 minors after two weeks on board.

- No plan to use force -

Proactiva said it was assured that she does not plan to use force against the migrant ship.

Meanwhile on Thursday, the Spanish government said it was ready to accept some of the migrants on the Open Arms, on condition that an accord is reached on distributing the migrants between several European countries.

"Our country is ready to participate in a balanced distribution of the migrants on the boat", Open Arms, currently stranded in Italian waters, the government said in a statement, adding that it was working with the European Commission and other EU nations "to find a common solution".

Spain had Tuesday dismissed a request from the ship's captain to take 31 minors off the Open Arms, arguing that he did not have the legal authority to make an asylum request for them.

Another rescue ship the Ocean Viking, operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders (MSF), which is also looking for a port to dock with more than 350 migrants on board, was on Thursday also near the coasts of Lampedusa and Malta.