Migrants let off Italian coastguard ship after Mattarella intervenes

Sixty-seven people rescued from the Mediterranean have disembarked at the Sicilian port of Trapani from an Italian coastguard ship after a Italy's president Sergio Mattarella asked populist premier Giuseppe Conte to end a five-day standoff that had left the migrants stranded at sea.

In his rare intervention in Italian politics late on Thursday, Mattarella expressed his concern to Conte at the plight of the migrants, who included women and children. After Mattarella's phonecall, Conte, a non-partisan law professor ordered the migrants to be allowed off the Diciotto coastguard vessel, to the “regret and amazement” of Italy's hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini, ministry sources said.

Italy's transport minister Danilo Toninelli allowed the Diciotto to dock at Trapani's port on Thursday but Salvini ordered that non of the migrants should disembark until a probe was completed into the allegedly violent behaviour of some.

"Two people are under investigation and people traffickers have been identified - all of them have been detained and questioned. The party's over!" Salvini wrote on Facebook.

"I will get to the bottom of this incident and make sure that justice is done," he told Italy's Rtl radio on Friday.

The migrants were rescued on Sunday by an Italian commercial ship, the Vos Thalassa, which transferred the migrants to the Diciotto on Monday after Salvini barred the ship from docking at an Italian port.

Earlier, two of the rescued migrants allegedly made death threats to the Vos Thalassa's captain and crew, fearing they would be handed over to an approaching Libyan coastguard vessel. The report prompted Salvini on Wednesday to refuse to allow the Diciotto to dock in Trapani unless the "troublemakers" were arrested, imprisoned and deported.

The rescued migrants include three women and two unaccompanied minors. Many are from Pakistan and they also hail from Bangladesh, Sudan, Libya, the Palestinian territories, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Chad, Nepal, Yemen and Ghana, according to Italian officials.