Italy demands Britain takes in 141 migrants on Gibraltan rescue boat

Matteo Salvini

The operators of the migrant ship Aquarius yesterday called on Europe to find a safe haven for 141 people it rescued in the Mediterranean, saying Italy and Malta had again refused to let the vessel dock.

The Aquarius, rented by the SOS Mediterranee NGO and managed in partnership with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), was at the centre of global spat in June when Italy and Malta both refused to lot it dock. She said "it could of course be the case that in theory a flag state of a rescue ship could be considered a potential location for disembarkation, but this might not be possible in practice". "At this point, the United Kingdom should take responsibility for the safeguarding of the shipwrecked", Toninelli said on Twitter.

French President Emmanuel Macron was the most outspoken critic of Italy during the June stand-off but has never allowed migrant ships to dock at its ports.

The government said the Aquarius rescue was carried out off the Libyan coast.

Earlier on Monday, Malta's armed forces rescued 114 migrants from a rubber dinghy taking on water 53 nautical miles (100 km) south of Malta and brought them back to the island.

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SOS Mediterranee say the medical condition of those on board, 70% of whom are from Somalia and Eritrea, is stable but warned many are weak and malnourished.

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Also on Monday, Malta's government issued anther statement with reaction to the NGO vessel Aquarius's request to enter Maltese ports.

Italy continues to refuse port to humanitarian rescue ships, and the country's transport minister, Danilo Toninelli, said on Twitter that Britain should take responsibility for the migrants aboard the Aquarius because it sails under the flag of the British territory of Gibraltar.

The European Commission is in touch with several EU states and trying to help resolve the "incident" with the Aquarius, a spokesman in Brussels said. More than 600,000 have reached Italian shores in the past four years.

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"Malta was neither the coordinating nor the competent authority. and therefore has no legal obligation to make the arrangements to provide for a place of safety".

One of the smugglers' boats, a small wooden craft with 25 migrants, appears to have been at sea for almost 35 hours, the groups said.

An estimated 720 people died in June and July when charity ships were mainly absent, Amnesty International estimates.

Aloys Vimard, Doctors Without Borders coordinator on the Aquarius, said the ship discovered the two boats by chance, even though the Libyans were aware of their distress.

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