Migrant rescue ship denied right to dock in Italy and Malta

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Doctors Without Borders operates the Aquarius ship, together with the SOS Mediterranean Organisations.

The French organization SOS Mediterranee said the ship was carrying 629 migrants picked up in the Mediterranean on Saturday, including 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women. But Muscat refused, Conte said, confirming "the latest unwillingness of Malta and, thus, of Europe, to intervene and take care of the emergency".

Speaking to news channel Sky TG24, Aquarius crew member Alessandro Porro said that they were north of Malta and had "received no communications from the Maltese authorities".

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

Italy's firebrand interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who leads the anti-immigrant League party in the governing coalition, has long railed against what he depicts as Europe's failure to show solidarity with Italy during the migrant crisis in recent years.

"From now also Italy begins to say NO to the traffic of human beings, NO to the business of illegal immigration".

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.

"The Mediterranean is the sea of all the countries that face it, and it (Malta) can't imagine that Italy will continue to face this giant phenomenon (of migration) in solitude", the ministers said.

Malta is accusing Italy of violating global 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.

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

The vessel is now awaiting "definitive instructions", the humanitarian group said.

Sea-Watch said police also questioned some of the rescued migrants who, after being processed by the authorities, are likely to end up in reception centres.

Under worldwide law, people rescued at sea should be brought to the nearest and safest port for assistance.

Dalli accused the Italian government of breaching worldwide maritime laws by refusing to allow the Aquarius to berth in its ports.

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

"My aim is to guarantee a peaceful life for these youths in Africa and for our children in Italy", he said, using the Twitter hashtag "We are shutting the ports".

Charity boats operating off the Libyan coast have played an increasingly important role in rescuing migrants, who often put to sea in flimsy inflatable boats not designed for the open ocean.

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

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