Published: Mon, June 11, 2018
Global | By Marsha Munoz

Migrants remain at sea as Italy-Malta standoff escalates

Migrants remain at sea as Italy-Malta standoff escalates

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

In a statement late on Sunday, the government said Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, and the Prime Minister of Italy, Giuseppe Conte, had a telephone conversation on the developing situation of the vessel Acquarius.

Italy has refused to grant access to another migrant rescue ship right after denying entry to nearly 630 migrants on board the rescue vessel Acquarius, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said.

"The boat is now heading north towards a secure port", SOS Mediterranee tweeted without specifying its destination, though virtually every such migrant boat over the past five years ended up in Italy.

European charity SOS Mediterranee said on Twitter earlier that its rescue boat, Aquarius, had taken on board 629 migrants, including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and seven pregnant women.

On Sunday, Salvini said Italy was saying "no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration".

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

The vessel, now carrying 629 people, was ordered by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center late on Sunday to remain 35 nautical miles from Italy and 27 nautical miles from Malta.

Tweeting out the hashtag #CloseMyPorts, Salvini identified the Sea Watch 3, a Dutch-flagged vessel working for a German open-borders group, telling his followers: "Italy has stopped bending its head and obeying, this is the time where we say no".

Salvini's comments came after another spat with Malta following 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.

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

New Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, left, looks at Italian President Sergio Mattarella passing by, during the swearing-in ceremony for Italy's new government at Rome's Quirinale Presidential Palace, Friday, June 1, 2018.

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"Malta is neither the competent nor the coordinating authority in this case".

A French NGO's rescue ship, the Aquarius, was waiting for a port to dock at on Monday as a diplomatic standoff played out over where it should go next.

The group said it "urgently requests a swift resolution and a designated port of safety".

Italy has had to deal with hundreds of thousands of migrants in recent years coming via Libya to reach Europe.

The small island nation with fewer than a half million inhabitants says it already accepts more refugees per capita than Italy, which has taken in more than 600,000 boat migrants since 2014.

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