“I will give authorisation [for the migrants] to disembark in the coming hours,” the anti-immigration minister wrote on Facebook of the migrants and asylum seekers who he had forced to remain on the boat docked in Sicily for five days.
Italian prosecutors had opened an investigation into the conditions on the coastguard supply vessel, where the migrants had only one toilet between them, Italian media reported.
An EU Commission spokeswoman told AFP earlier Wednesday that France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and Portugal would join the Italian Roman Catholic church in caring for the migrants.
The Commission did not give a breakdown on how the migrants would be shared out between the host countries but the official said most would stay in Italy.
I welcome that ??,??,??, ?? and ?? agreed to relocate persons from the Gregoretti and that many will also be received by the Church in ??. This was made possible thanks to the intense coordination efforts @EU_Commission. It shows that temporary arrangements are urgently needed.
— Dimitris Avramopoulos (@Avramopoulos) July 31, 2019
Some 140 migrants, who set off from Libya in two boats, were picked up by Italian patrols and transferred to the coastguard ship Bruno Gregoretti.
Several migrants aboard the Gregoretti have already been evacuated for medical attention, including a seven-month-pregnant woman, her two children and her partner as well as 15 minors. But Salvini had insisted that the remaining migrants would not be able to leave the vessel until other European countries agreed to take them in.
The stand-off was immediately set to repeat itself, with Salvini on Wednesday formally banning the Alan Kurdi — a rescue ship run by German charity Sea-Eye — from entering Italian waters after plucking 40 migrants from waters off Libya.
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Salvini, also interior minister, has taken a hard line against migrants rescued at sea being brought to Italy, which he says bears an unfair burden in the crisis.
French President Emmanuel Macron said last week that 14 EU members had approved a plan to redistribute refugees rescued in the Mediterranean and eight said they would actively take part. The proposal drew Salvini's ire because it still involved allowing migrants to disembark on Italian territory.
“A European solution has been found for the women and men stranded on the ship Gregoretti,” Macron tweeted on Wednesday. “They will disembark in Italy, then be welcomed in six countries, including France. Our country is true to its principles: responsibility, solidarity and European cooperation.”
Une solution européenne a été trouvée pour les femmes et les hommes bloqués sur le navire Gregoretti. Ils vont débarquer en Italie, puis seront accueillis dans 6 pays, dont la France. Notre pays est fidèle à ses principes : responsabilité, solidarité et coopération européenne.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) July 31, 2019
Former Italian navy chief Giuseppe De Giorgi, who launched the Mare Nostrum maritime rescue plan in 2013, hailed the Gregoretti's crew who “despite all were committed to accomplishing with honour their duty as sailors to protect lives at sea”.
In August 2018, more than 150 people were stranded on the Italian coastguard ship Diciotti for over a week before an agreement between the church, Albania and Ireland allowed them to disembark.