Italy set to take in over 500 migrants from rescue boats

FILE PHOTO: NGO rescue ships docked in Catania

ROME (Reuters) -Italy agreed on Friday to take in over 500 migrants from two rescue ships at sea off its coast after another vessel carrying 33 migrants had docked overnight on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa.

The Geo Barents ship, which is operated by the Doctors without Borders (MSF) charity and had 248 migrants aboard, has been told to head for the port of Salerno on the southern Italian mainland, MSF said.

MSF said it would take more than 24 hours to get there from its current location off the eastern coast of Sicily but welcomed the decision.

"Having a secure place to disembark is finally some good news for all the survivors after the tragic experiences that they have faced," MSF said on Twitter.

How to respond to requests for help from the charity vessels in the Mediterranean is a challenge for Italy's new right-wing government that has pledged to take a tough stance on immigration.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Euro-Mediterranean Summit in the Spanish city of Alicante, Italy's Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said "each case is unique" referring to the NGOs vessels.

He confirmed that at least one vessel would dock at Salerno.

Italian media reported that the Humanity 1, another vessel run by the charity SOS Humanity would be allowed to dock at the port of Bari, in the south-eastern region of Puglia.

The ship was carrying 261 rescued people, including around 30 women, some of them pregnant, and over 90 minors, most of them unaccompanied.

A spokesperson for SOS Humanity was not immediately available for comment.

A 14-year-old boy, who was travelling alone, was earlier airlifted from the Geo Barents to Sicily after suffering acute abdominal pain, MSF said. On Wednesday, a baby was born on the same vessel and later flown to Sicily with his mother and three siblings.

The migrants on the vessel that docked in Lampedusa had been rescued from a small wooden boat in the Mediterranean two days ago and taken on board the Louise Michel rescue ship.

"As (the) weather was dangerously deteriorating, the permission to enter Lampedusa came at the last moment," the operators of the Louise Michel said in a Tweet.

(Reporting by Agnieszka Flak, Alvise Armellini and Giselda Vagnoni, writing by Federico Maccioni, editing by Crispian Balmer and Keith Weir)