Spanish charities including Proactiva Open Arms received the green light to set sail from the port of Barcelona on Wednesday. Instead of returning to the central Mediterranean to save migrants, the NGOs will deliver aid supplies to migrants on the Greek islands.
Spanish authorities in mid-January denied permission for the migrant rescue ship Open Arms to leave Barcelona, arguing Spain has no maritime rescue jurisdiction off the Libyan coast where the Open Arms operated.
The government now reluctantly allowed the Open Arms and another rescue vessel to set sail for Greece to deliver aid supplies to migrants.
"After being blocked in the port for 100 days, it [the Open Arms ship] will set sail, but without authorization to enter the SAR (search and rescue) zone of the central Mediterranean," the Proactiva Open Arms organization that runs the ship said in a statement.
The Open Arms is headed for Samos and Lesbos carrying blankets and other supplies. The Aita Mari ship, run by the Humanitarian Rescue Service group, will bring medical and sanitary supplies to the camps on the islands of Lesbos and Chios.
The NGOs face fines from 300,000 to 900,000 euros ($340,000 to one million dollars) if they venture without permission into official search and rescue areas in the Central Mediterranean, AP reports.
Blocked in Barcelona
The blockage of the Open Arms has marked a change in the pro-migrant policy of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's minority socialist government which came to power in June.
During an interview broadcast on March 31 on Spanish TV channel La Sexta, Pope Francis criticized the Spanish government's decision to block the ship in Barcelona, calling it "a great injustice".
Proactiva Open Arms operates between Libya and southern Europe to aid migrants in distress at sea. The NGO says it has rescued nearly 60,000 lives since it was founded in 2015.
Since the beginning of the year, 407 people have died so far while crossing the Mediterranean to Europe, according to the IOM.