Richard Gere boards humanitarian ship carrying 121 migrants amid standoff with European countries

Richard Gere on Friday boarded a Spanish humanitarian ship that has been stuck in the Mediterranean Sea for more than a week because no European government will welcome the 121 migrants who are aboard.

In a bid to draw attention to the standoff, Gere boarded the Open Arms some 27 nautical miles off Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost island. The vessel, which faces a fine of up to 1 million euros if it enters Italian waters, has been idle for eight days.

Actor Richard Gere talking with migrants aboard the Open Arms Spanish humanitarian boat on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. 

Actor Richard Gere talking with migrants aboard the Open Arms Spanish humanitarian boat on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019.  (AP)

The “Pretty Woman” actor helped bring food and supplies to the boat and asked for support for the ship, whose passengers include 9-month-old Ethiopian twins.

"The most important thing for these people here is to be able to get to a free port, to get off the boat, to get on land and start a new life," Gere said, urging the world to "please support us here on Open Arms and help these people, our brothers and sisters."

Some online praised Gere for his humanitarian efforts, while others scorned him as a "multi-millionaire" who ought to “put some of them up in (his) own home.”

Italy's firebrand Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is popular for his hardline stance against migrant arrivals and who this week plunged Italy into a political crisis, mocked Gere on Twitter.

“Richard Gere on Open Arms? I hope he gets tanned and he feels alright…Since this ship is a Spanish NGO, they can unload the passengers at Ibiza or Formentera, right?” Salvini wrote.

The EU Commission said Friday it has not received any requests from a national government to intervene, which is typically required. But spokeswoman Annika Breidhardt said the commission was reaching out to member states "to show solidarity." She noted a solution depended on "the willingness" of member states to step up.

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Such standoffs have persisted over the last 14 months since Italy's populist government took office and Salvini became interior minister. He blames the EU and other member states for leaving Italy alone to manage migrant arrivals for too long.

He likens rescue ships to migrant taxi services and raised the stakes this week by winning parliamentary approval for a new security decree that increased fines on ships entering Italian waters without permission to 1 million euros from 50,000 euros.

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Migrant arrivals in Italy are down dramatically to some 4,042 so far this year, down 78% from last year's 18,897 and 96% from 96,847 in 2017. Many migrants continue to arrive on their own in Lampedusa, often from Tunisia, despite Salvini's campaign against humanitarian rescue ship.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.