Men wait to disembark from the Ocean Viking ship as it reaches the port of Messina, Italy, Sept. 24, 2019.
FILE - Men wait to disembark from the Ocean Viking ship as it reaches the port of Messina, Italy, Sept. 24, 2019.

ROME - Some 180 migrants rescued at sea will be held in isolation on an Italian ferry off the coast of Sicily, the coast guard said Sunday.

Italy has refused to take in saved migrants due to the coronavirus epidemic, saying the outbreak, which has killed over 23,000 people, meant it could no longer be considered a port of safety.

Thirty-four people pulled to safety by Spanish NGO rescue vessel Aita Mari were being transferred Sunday to the Rubattino ferry, which is anchored outside the port of Palermo and staffed by 22 Red Cross volunteers.

They join 146 migrants who were transferred to the ferry on Friday from the The Alan Kurdi rescue vessel, run by the German NGO Sea Eye.     

They will be tested for the virus and redistributed among EU countries once the 14-day isolation period is up, according to Italian media reports.

The 180-metre long Tirrenia ferry can carry 1,471 passengers, and has 289 cabins, a medical center, restaurant, bars, and a children's play area.
 
It was not clear whether the migrants would be confined to individual cabins.

                

Special Section