Open Arms NGO ship finally sets sail from Barcelona port

Blockaded by Spanish authorities for over 100 days, good weather permits rescue vessel to carry humanitarian aid to eastern Mediterranean

Open Arms vessel setting sail from Barcelona port on April 23, 2019 (by Miquel Codolar)
Open Arms vessel setting sail from Barcelona port on April 23, 2019 (by Miquel Codolar) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

April 23, 2019 04:55 PM

The Open Arms refugee search-and-rescue vessel finally left the port of Barcelona on Tuesday afternoon, after more than 100 days blockaded by the Spanish authorities.

The ship owned by the Proactiva Open Arms NGO was given permission to set sail last week, but plans for it to leave on Friday were postponed due to poor weather conditions.

Yet, after the skies cleared on Tuesday, while Catalonia celebrated Sant Jordi's Day, the ship left Barcelona port with a cargo of humanitarian aid destined for the eastern Mediterranean.

"After over 100 days confined to port we return to where it began. The flag of Sant Jordi carries us back to the Aegean with 20 tonnes of humanitarian aid," the organization tweeted.

Banned from migrant rescue operations

While Spain's development ministry authorized the ship to take humanitarian aid to the Greek islands of Samos and Lesbos, it banned the vessel from taking part in migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Spanish authorities first confined the ship to port on January 8, on the grounds that Italy and Malta would not allow the vessel to dock with refugees aboard, while it did not have the necessary certification to bring so many passengers to Spain.

Barcelona mayor, Ada Colau, condemned the "hypocrisy" of Pedro Sánchez's government for allowing the vessel to leave but not allowing it to carry out its "specific function, which is to save lives."

Since 2017, the Proactiva Open Arms NGO has rescued hundreds of people stranded in the Mediterranean Sea, and has also received recognition for its humanitarian work, such as the EU's European Citizen's Prize in 2016.