Italy has permitted charity vessel Ocean Viking to transfer 180 migrants, including an unspecified number of Bangladeshis, rescued in the Mediterranean to a ship in Sicily for quarantine, Al Jazeera reports.
The migrants began to leave the vessel in Sicily late on Monday after nine days stuck on the ship.
“We’re very happy! We’ve come a long way, Libya was like hell and now at least we can see the end. I need to tell my family that I’m still alive,” Rabiul, 27, from Bangladesh told AFP.
An AFP journalist aboard the Ocean Viking watched as the migrants, in single file and carrying backpacks, regained dry land at Porto Empedocle on the Italian island’s western coast.
Police escorted them a short distance to another vessel, where they will be quarantined to prevent the possible spread of coronavirus.
The 180 migrants — from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, and North African countries — include 25 minors and two women, one of whom is pregnant.
The arrival of the boat chartered by charity group SOS Mediterranee capped a tense few days onboard marked by migrants jumping overboard, a suicide attempt, and bouts of violence.
After being rescued in four separate operations on June 25 and 30, the migrants waiting on the ship became increasingly agitated, according to SOS Mediterranee, as the charity awaited the go-ahead from either Italy or Malta to dock at a safe port.
However, the approval did not arrive until Sunday, after the group declared a state of emergency on board, adding it could no longer guarantee the safety of the migrants or the crew.
Soon after 18:00 GMT on Monday, the Ocean Viking docked at the port directly in front of the Italian ferry Moby Zaza, where the migrants will wait out a two-week quarantine period.
Earlier on Monday, a separate group of 169 migrants disembarked from the Moby Zaza after a two-week quarantine.
Thirty of the group — all of whom were rescued last month by Sea-Watch, another humanitarian group — tested positive for coronavirus and will remain on the ferry in an isolated “red zone” area.
SOS Mediterranee spent most of Monday waiting for roughly four kilometers from the coast before being allowed to dock, as it warned that tensions were rising and the long wait was “amplifying risks on board.”
From the deck of the Ocean Viking, migrants who have waited for more than a week to disembark could make out both the Sicilian coast and the immense ferry, the Moby Zaza, according to an AFP reporter on board.