Wednesday, 24 October, 2018

Italy shuts ports to rescue ship carrying 629 migrants

629 migrants on ship in limbo after Italy Malta refusal Twitter/@MSF_Sea via CNN
Jeannette Daniel | 11 June, 2018, 15:20

However, Mr Salvini does not have authority over the ports and it was not immediately clear if his line would hold.

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.

Italy has refused to allow a humanitarian ship carrying more than 600 migrants and refugees to dock at its ports, officials say, and has now asked the Mediterranean island of Malta to open its doors to the vessel.

He tweeted: #Chiudiamoiporti. "We're closing the ports".

As the rhetoric intensified, the Aquarius remained on standby in the Mediterranean Sea with its 629 passengers, including 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women.

Salvini pointed to Malta's unwillingness in accusing Europe as a whole of leaving Italy on its own to deal with the refugee crisis.

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.

Mr Salvini says he wants to "stop the death boats".

The migrants were saved by SOS Mediterranee on Saturday and are stuck aboard the French NGO's ship Aquarius, which is now between Malta and Sicily waiting for a secure port for her to dock.

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As of Monday morning, the Aquarius was circling in global waters off Malta after the Italian maritime coordination centre in Rome ordered the vessel to stay put (see map).

Italy's spat with Malta began after its reported refusal to come to the aid of another rescue ship Seefuchs, which was stranded with 126 migrants on board due to violent seas until it was allowed to dock in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo on Saturday.

There was no comment from the Italian Ministry of the Interior or the local coastguard.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said he personally contacted Malta's prime minister, Joseph Muscat, to "explicitly at least take on the human assistance of persons in difficulty aboard the Aquarius".

The Maltese Rescue Coordination Center "is neither the competent nor the coordinating authority", the statement said.

The charity's spokesperson, Mathilde Auvillain, said the ship had received orders to head north and was now awaiting "definitive instructions".

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.

For years the European Union has largely ignored Italy's rising fury at being left to deal with the migration crisis (even when it came from more politically acceptable figures like Matteo Renzi) but with Mr Salvini in charge, that may no longer be possible.

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