Published: Wed, June 13, 2018
Global News | By Blake Casey

Italian ships to carry 629 shipwrecked African migrants to Spain

Italian ships to carry 629 shipwrecked African migrants to Spain

The migrants were rescued in six separate night-time operations in the central Mediterranean on Saturday.

The move also created rifts with Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat who said the he was "worried about the direction taken by the Italian authorities" that according to him went against global law.

But more than 16 hours after Spain made its offer, the Aquarius, which is operated by the charities SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders, was still drifting at sea close to Malta, awaiting instructions over how to proceed.

The Aquarius and its passengers were caught up in a crackdown swiftly implemented by the right-wing partner in Italy's new populist government, which has vowed to stop the country from becoming the "refugee camp of Europe".

Fresh provisions including 950 bottles of water, 800 boxes of noodles and snacks, blankets, hats and socks were delivered to the Aquarius on Tuesday, SOS Mediterranee said.

"The statements concerning (the humanitarian ship) Aquarius that come from France are surprising".

Italy and Malta showed no sign of backing down despite the United Nations call to immediately allow the boat to dock, describing the situation as "an urgent humanitarian imperative".

Its far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini showed no sign of backing down on Monday.

The standoff marked the first inevitable clash over migrant rescues with League leader Salvini, now running Italy's interior ministry. "Italy has stopped bowing its head and obeying, this time THERE IS SOMEONE WHO SAYS NO. #chiudiamoiporti (#weareclosingtheports)", Salvini wrote on Twitter, as quoted by the Ansa news agency.

A migrant and his child disembark from the MV Aquarius last month
Image A migrant and his child disembark from the MV Aquarius last month

In the other hand, the Maltese government insisted it was "acting in full conformity with its worldwide obligations".

"This was a first important signal that Italy can not go on alone supporting this huge weight", said Salvini, who threatened to bar additional rescue vessels. MSF, SOS MEDITERRANEE and the captain of the Aquarius are waiting for the IMRCC action plan and will then assess whether it is safe and acceptable to proceed. Although there were no immediate emergencies on board, the spokesman said, there were many who needed medical care for chemical burns, hypothermia and dehydration.

Corsican leaders Gilles Simeoni and Jean-Guy Talamoni, the top politicians on the French Mediterranean island, tweeted their offer on Tuesday morning as uncertainty grew over the fate of the 629 people on board the ship. His tweet concluded with the hashtag #chiudiamoiporti - which means "we're closing the ports" in Italian.

The 629 people, including seven pregnant women and 100 unaccompanied children, are to make another four-day journey to Valencia just as the Aquarius ship was about to run out of supplies.

More than 600,000 migrants and refugees have reached Italy by boat from Africa in the past five years.

The Italian government, and others like it including Britain's, want hundreds of people to drown to deter others from trying to flee to Europe to escape war, poverty and climate change.

The Aquarius will carry around 100 immigrants to their new destination, while the rest will be transferred to two additional vessels from Italy's Coast Guard and Navy.

Italy demands an equal share of migrant intake to be distributed across the bloc, something Conte raised at the G7 meeting this past weekend.

"Naples is ready, without funds, to save lives", he said.

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