Stranded British rescuers call for Foreign Office help

British rescuers Image copyright Doug Kuntz/Sea-Watch
Image caption (Left to right): Kim Heaton-Heather, Brendan Woodhouse, Dan Bebawi and Jon Stone, who are calling for the Foreign Office to help

Four British rescuers stranded near Sicily have asked the Foreign Secretary to intervene as they face investigation for assisting illegal migration.

The Sea-Watch 3 crew rescued 47 people from an inflatable vessel during storms in the Mediterranean on 19 January.

But they have been prevented from leaving the boat, or local waters, by Italian minister Matteo Salvini.

They have called on Jeremy Hunt to apply pressure on Italian authorities and accept the migrants onboard.

Father-of-two Brendan Woodhouse, from Matlock, Derbyshire, said they were "imprisoned" off the coast of Syracuse, Sicily.

"We are not allowed to land, nor are we allowed to leave, nor is the ship allowed to sail away," he said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The crew of the humanitarian aid ship rescued the men and boys on 19 January

"We are being threatened with a criminal investigation for saving people's lives at sea."

The 42-year-old, who works as a firefighter in Nottinghamshire, said they wanted the Italian minister to "take a share of the responsibility" for the men and boys on board and allow the crew to leave.

He had been due to take a flight back to the UK on Monday and return to work.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Members of the Italian Coast Guard carry food to take on board Sea-Watch 3

However interior minister, Mr Salvini, has refused to let private rescue boats enter Italian ports, arguing they encourage human traffickers on the Mediterranean.

He has accused the captain and crew of "a crime and a clear desire to use these immigrants in a political battle" and said evidence will be handed to judicial authorities.

Also on the vessel were head of mission Kim Heaton-Heather, 37, from Brighton, chief engineer Jon Stone, a former Navy serviceman from Lincoln, and bosun Dan Bebawi, 39, from Nottingham.

The ship's crew said they rescued the migrants, including 15 unaccompanied minors, after they were spotted off Libya by a passing plane.

They said the situation onboard was becoming "dire" and provisions are running low.

Sicilians have offered their support, and three United Nations agencies have appealed to Italy to allow the migrants off the ship.

The Foreign Office has been contacted for comment by the BBC.

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