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Spain Allows NGO's to Deliver Aid      04/17 06:29

   BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- Spain has reluctantly allowed humanitarian aid 
vessels to depart for the Greek islands where they want to deliver aid supplies 
to migrant camps, Spanish aid groups said Wednesday. But the groups face hefty 
fines if their boats venture without permission into official search and rescue 
areas in the Central Mediterranean.

   The Spanish government had blocked the rescue boats from sailing, fearing 
they would anger Mediterranean countries like Italy if they roam around the 
ocean looking for and picking up migrants.

   Italy and Malta have argued that they cannot open their ports to 
humanitarian rescue ships because their activities off the coast of lawless 
Libya have encouraged human traffickers.

   After nearly four months of legal back and forth, the Aita Mari received the 
green light to sail to the Aegean Sea on Tuesday.

   Daniel Rivas, a spokesman for the Humanitarian Rescue Service group, said 
the ship carries medical and sanitary supplies to the camps on the islands of 
Lesbos and Chios.

   A separate boat, Proactiva's Open Arms, will depart from Barcelona later 
this week with blankets and other supplies, the group's founder Oscar Camps 
said Wednesday.

   Both have been told to stay away from off-coast search and rescue zones 
unless authorities ask them to participate in a specific operation to aid 
people in distress at sea.

   They face fines from 300,000 to 900,000 euros ($340,000 to one million 
dollars) if they break those conditions.

   Camps said his group would still conduct rescues if they find people in need.

   "It's our legal obligation to rescue people in the sea, if we come across 
them, we will do it," he told Catalan television TV3.

   A total of 407 people have died so far this year while crossing the 
Mediterranean to Europe this year, according to the IOM, the United Nation's 
migration body.


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