ROME (AP) — A Spanish aid boat with 147 rescued migrants aboard was anchored near a tiny southern Italian island Thursday while Italy's interior and defense ministers sparred over their fate.
The ship entered Italian territorial waters after a court overruled a ban by right-wing Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. He responded by issuing a fresh decree banning the ship from docking at the island of Lampedusa to disembark the passengers, rescued two weeks earlier, but Defense Minister Elisabetta Trenta refused to countersign it.
Trenta said she is "listening to my conscience."
"We can't forget that behind the polemics of these days there are children and youths who suffered violence and every kind of abuse," she said in a statement explaining her refusal. "Politics can't lose humanity."
The squabbling between Salvini, who leads the anti-migrant League, the populist government's junior partner, and Trenta, who is from the 5-Star Movement, the senior coalition party, reflects exploding political tensions that have put Premier Giuseppe Conte's 14-month old government on the verge of collapse.
Salvini says Italy has already taken hundreds of thousands of rescued migrants in recent years. He insists other European Union nations accept the migrants, most of whom are fleeing poverty and aren't eligible for refugee status or asylum.
Salvini also vowed to appeal the court ruling.
Italian RAI state radio said two navy ships are nearby to evacuate the children, a day after the Italian premier asked Salvini to allow them to leave.
"One can't understand why an Italian judge can allow it to enter our waters" after the boat was previously in Maltese waters, Salvini tweeted.
Even as the fighting over Open Arms played out, another migrant rescue boat drama loomed.
The Ocean Viking, a Norwegian ship operated by Doctors Without Borders and SOS Mediterranee, was awaiting word where it can safely disembark 356 migrants, who were plucked to safety from human traffickers' unseaworthy boats in various operations. So far it has appealed to Italy and Malta in vain.
The U.N. refugee agency earlier in the week urged European governments to step forward and agree to take those stranded on the rescue boats.