After several dramatic calls by its crew who feared for the safety of everyone aboard the Open Arms, a ship of the like-named Spanish NGO, 27 unaccompanied minors were finally allowed to disembark at the Italian island of Lampedusa, though 107 other people rescued in the Mediterranean 16 days ago were not permitted to join them.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, increasingly alone in his intransigent refusal to allow the youngsters to disembark, at last grudgingly gave in and said he was doing it against his will after Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte sent him two letters requesting his go-ahead.
"Against my will and as yet another example of my loyal collaboration, I will put no obstacles to the execution of your decision," wrote the far-right leader in response to Conte, though not without warning that this is setting "a dangerous precedent."
Soon afterwards, vessels of the Italian Coast Guard and Finance Guard picked up the 27 minors from the Open Arms in order to sail them to dry land, amid the applause and hugs between those leaving and those left behind.
Meanwhile the Prosecutor's Office of Agrigento, Sicily, which has jurisdiction over Lampedusa, is investigating the possible crime of kidnapping in forcing all those people to stay on the ship despite the annulment by an Italian court several days previously of Salvini's ban on the Open Arms entering the nation's territorial waters.
The 27 youngsters - 13 Eritreans, five Sudanese, two from Chad, two from Gambia, one Ghanaian, one from Mali, one from Nigeria, one Ethiopian and one Egyptian - were taken to a reception center after reaching dry land.
During the disembarking of these youths, who had spent more than two weeks crowded on the increasingly filthy deck of the Open Arms with the other people who had been rescued, the interior minister and deputy prime minister of Italy appeared in a Facebook photo smiling on a beach with his daughter in his arms.
"With my princess in my arms, all the insults and threats against me disappear as if by magic," wrote Salvini, who soon afterwards posted another photo picking zucchini flowers in a field.
Idyllic images that were very different from the plight of people aboard the Open Arms, described as "desperate" by the NGO and its founder, Oscar Camps.
"The situation is out of control...Starting today we can't take responsibility nor guarantee the safety of the 134 people aboard, nor of the 19 volunteer crew members, who are kidnapped on the Open Arms, because now it's impossible to keep everyone calm," Camps warned in a video made from a boat in front of the ship anchored outside the Lampedusa port.
"At any time some violence will be unleashed and we won't be able to stop it," added the activist, who has communicated the situation to the acting president of the Spanish government, Pedro Sanchez; to German Chancellor Angela Merkel; to French President Emmanuel Macron; to the president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli; and to the Italian authorities.
Shortly before, the humanitarian ship had been declared "in a state of necessity," the same plea made last June by the captain of Sea Watch 3, the German Carola Rackete, before docking without permission and disembarking 42 migrants on Lampedusa after more than two weeks aboard.
"After 16 days waiting for a safe port where we can disembark, after six medical evacuations and after informing the authorities of our situation without getting any answer, we find ourselves in a situation of necessity and we can no longer guarantee the security of the 134 people aboard," the NGO Open Arms said Saturday.
After disembarking the minors, the Agrigento Prosecutor's Office was to perform a medical inspection of the ship to check on the sanitary conditions aboard.
Prime Minister Conte announced last Sunday that the governments of Spain, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Portugal and Romania have said they are willing to receive some of those rescued, but have not yet formalized any relocation accord. EFE-EPA vh/cd