Rome (AFP) – Huge waves and strong winds forced a migrant ship caught in a major diplomatic row to take a detour Thursday on its way to Spain, with many aboard suffering seasickness and shock, a French charity said.
Spain agreed to take in the vessel with 629 migrants, left in high-seas limbo after their weekend rescue off Libya’s coast as Italy and Malta bickered over who should take them in.
The boat, run by French charity SOS Mediterranee, set off on its 1,500-kilometre (930 miles) journey across the Mediterranean to the Spanish port of Valencia on Tuesday.
The organisation said Thursday that the Italian coast guard vessel guiding the Aquarius ship had decided to divert the convoy north along the east coast of Sardinia to bypass four-metre (13-feet) high waves and winds of 35 knots (65 km/h).
The NGO said on Twitter the move was to “protect itself from the otherwise unbearable bad weather for the people on board, who are exhausted, suffering from shock and seasickness”.
Tensions flared between Malta and Italy earlier this week after the new populist government in Rome refused to allow Aquarius to dock in any of its ports.
Another, much bigger row then erupted with France, which blasted the “cynicism and irresponsibility” of Italy’s actions.
Italy’s new economy minister shelved a meeting with his French counterpart in Paris on Wednesday as a result of the dispute.
However, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Thursday he believed the dispute to be resolved after a phone conservation with French President Emmanuel Macron.
The pair is set to meet Friday in Paris for talks including on migration.