The Italian authorities refused to allow 250 of the 751 people rescued by the two ships in the central Mediterranean between October 23 and 29.
When the far-right government issued a decree ordering the Geo Barents and Humanity 1 to leave port on Sunday, the captains refused to go.
But the government finally backed down on Tuesday night following condemnations from activists and international human rights organisations, and after many of the rescued began a hunger strike.
“Here on board the Geo Barents, we are really happy to receive the information from the health authorities that finally, all the survivors that we have on board will be disembarked soon,” the ship’s deputy search-and-rescue team leader Riccardo Gatti said on Tuesday night.
“This is the [real end] of the rescue operation as per international convention, maritime law and, obviously, ethical and moral needs.”
Today, the Geo Barents’ operators Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said the ship will leave Catania by Thursday night at the latest.
“We are getting ready to go back at sea to rescue people in need,” MSF said on social media.
“That’s our answer to [the] EU’s reckless policies of non-assistance, condemning people to drown. We will not remain silent to this man-made disaster.”
Till Rummenhohl, Humanity 1’s head of operations, said today the crew is relieved that the rescued can go ashore, but appalled by Italy’s blatant disregard of the law and human rights.
“No matter what the political situation is in Italy or the EU right now,” he said, “people are fleeing Libya because they are being mistreated there and have no choice but to make the life-threatening journey across the Mediterranean.”
Rummenhohl told reporters gathered for a press conference today that Catania’s harbour master has asked the Humanity 1 to leave as soon as possible.
“This is what we were planning to do,” he said. “We don’t want to stay any longer than we have too, even though we witnessed great support from civil society and from politicians here in Catania and from Sicily, which we are really thankful for.
“We will leave the port of Catania today after we finalise our provisions.
“For sure, we will continue to do our job. But we don’t know how soon that will be.”
“Yesterday, 16 people left from Bizerte towards Italy, but their boat sank just 2km off the coast,” Alarm Phone posted on social media today.
“Ten people were rescued or swam to safety, but four others are still missing. So far, two bodies have been found. Our condolences go to their friends and families.”
Top image show Humanity 1 crew members cheering and applauding as the remaining 35 survivors finally leave the ship [Pic: Max Cavallari / SOS Humanity]