Published: Mon, June 11, 2018
Global News | By Blake Casey

Row over ship with 600 migrants aboard adrift off Italy

Row over ship with 600 migrants aboard adrift off Italy

The MV Aquarius, a search and rescue ship run in partnership between SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres, has been told by Italian authorities to stand by in its current position, 35 nautical miles from Italy and 27 nautical miles from Malta.

Like Malta, Italy didn't appear to be budging.

Malta has accused Italy of violating worldwide norms by instructing a migrant rescue ship with 629 people aboard to stay at sea while a diplomatic standoff plays out over where it can dock. Salvini had earlier issued a joint statement with Italian Transportation Minister Danilo Toninelli of the 5-Star Movement, saying Malta "cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise global conventions on the protection of human life". "He has once again shown that we are under an extreme far-right government" he said, reports The Guardian.

The Maltese prime minister also expressed concern over the Italian authorities' directions given to the Acquarius vessel, adding that such policies contradicted worldwide norms, and might lead to risky developments.

He also complained, on Facebook that: "Malta takes in nobody".

The minister is being seen as making good on "get-tough" anti-immigration electoral promises by banning the boat in a move which has seismic implications for the European Union and worldwide asylum policy. "Italy is done bowing its head and obeying". All passengers were offloaded to the Aquarius to be taken to land. "The people we saved were in a hard condition, at least 50 were at risk of drowning", he added. "We need to have an idea of what port to go to, something that up to now we haven't had".

Among those on board the rescue ship are 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 younger children and seven pregnant women, the German charity SOS Méditerranée says.

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Matteo Salvini sent a letter to the Maltese authorities saying he would "be forced to close Italy's ports" if the 629 migrants saved by the French charity SOS Mediterranee weren't allowed to land at Malta's capital Valletta.

And the crisis between the Mediterranean countries may be far from being over, as Italian newspaper Repubblica reported that 800 more people have been saved by both Italian and global boats in Libyan waters overnight.

Naples is "ready, without funds, to save human lives", the mayor of Naples tweeted, calling Salvini a "heartless minister".

Farther west in the Mediterranean, Spain's maritime rescue service saved 334 migrants and recovered four bodies from boats it intercepted trying to reach Europe over the weekend.

Italian police questioned the boat's captain for more than four hours, according to the NGO, and journalists aboard were asked to hand over video footage of the rescue operation, which took place on June 5. The Rome-based rescue coordination center gave the instructions.

One said: "Rome is seeking a diplomatic incident".

Migrants watch the Sicilian coast from the "Aquarius" vessel as they arrive in Trapani, western Sicilia, Italy.

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