Updated 5.12pm

A migrant rescue vessel stranded at sea for three days has been granted entry into Sicily after reporting a technical fault to its engines.

The Golfo Azzurro, which spent the past two days caught in the middle of a diplomatic stoush between Malta and Sicily, is expected to reach Pozzallo shortly. 

Operated by Barcelona-based NGO Proactiva Open Arms, the ship is carrying three migrants rescued some 100 kilometres off the Libyan coast. 

In a statement, the Italian coast guard said that the ship had been allowed to reach Italian shores to ensure navigational safety following its engine fault. 

Italian news outlet La Repubblica quoted an NGO spokesman as saying they had received clearance to enter Pozzallo and disembark its crew and passengers. 

Image: Vessel FinderImage: Vessel Finder

"We will follow all standard procedures, including medical examinations for the migrants aboard," said Proactiva Open Arms spokesman Riccardo Gatti. "Thankfully this bizarre situation has been resolved."

READ: Malta right to deny ship entry, says deputy PM Fearne

Italian authorities had refused the Golfo Azzurro entry into Lampedusa, the ship's closest port of call, on Monday. The reasons for refusal remain unclear, with some reports claiming Italian authorities insisted the rescue happened in Malta's search-and-rescue zone and others suggesting authorities in Rome were adamant on the NGO adhering to a recently-introduced code of conduct for sea rescue operators.

Proactive Open Arms signed up to the code of conduct yesterday, while the Golfo Azzurro was still stranded at sea. 

Malta, for its part, denied the ship entry, citing international maritime law provisions which state that people rescued at sea should be disembarked at the nearest port of call. In this case, that was the Italian island of Lampedusa. 

After more than 24 hours circling Malta, the Golfo Azzurro had rerouted north towards Sicily. It was intercepted by an Italian coast guard vessel just outside Italian waters, where it remained until this morning. 

Italian friction

The Golfo Azzurro saga may be drawing to a close, but tensions between Italian and Maltese authorities surrounding migrant sea rescues remain high, as evidenced by the tersely-worded statement issued by the Italian coast guard. 

In it, Italian authorities noted that the Golfo Azzurro rescue had taken place inside Malta's search-and-rescue zone, that Maltese authorities directed the ship's crew towards Lampedusa "without the endorsement of Italian maritime authorities" and that the Golfo Azzurro was heading to Malta before it diverted to rescue the three stranded migrants. 



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