Italy shuts ports to migrant boat, asks Malta to open its doors

Italy shuts ports to rescue ship carrying 629 migrants

Migrants remain at sea as Italy-Malta standoff intensifies

Italy and Malta had both refused to let the Gibraltar-flagged Aquarius ship, whose passengers include 11 children and seven pregnant women rescued off the coast of Libya at the weekend, to dock, prompting the European Union and the United Nations refugee agency to call for a swift end to the standoff.

The Aquarius had been instructed by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Rome "to transfer 400 of the 629 refugees and migrants now on board back to Italian Navy ships which will then head to Valencia to disembark", MSF Sea tweeted.

The head of the French charity which charters the Aquarius migrant rescue ship said Tuesday that it would continue its operations despite the global standoff over the 629 people now onboard.

Earlier on Tuesday the French government defended its decision not to offer safe harbour to the stranded migrant ship Aquarius after local leaders on Corsica proposed opening one of their ports to the vessel. The remaining 400 were transferred to Aquarius from Italian military boats after being rescued by mselves or by merchant ships that ran into m. Spain's prime minister offered to let it port in Valencia.

"We haven't moved since last night, people are starting to wonder why we've stopped", journalist Anelise Borges, who is aboard the Aquarius, said in a tweet.

The fate of the migrants aboard the Aquarius ship has been the centre of a diplomatic spat between Malta and Italy, with both countries insisting each other should take them in.

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Italy's new anti-migrant, right-wing interior minister, Matteo Salvini, is making good on a campaign pledge to close Italian ports to non-governmental organizations that pick up migrants at sea, which he has likened to taxi services for migrant smugglers.

Spain's new Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, ordered authorities in Valencia to open the port, saying "it's our duty to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a secure port for these people".

Its route north will take it past Malta, and an official said that Salvini had written to the government of the small island state asking it to let the Aquarius dock there.

However the one-off fix was not adequate, the charity said, calling on European leaders to step up and find shared solutions to support countries on the frontline, such as Italy.

Finally, 629 migrants rescued on Saturday night to Sunday in global waters against Libya will go to Spain, to port of Valencia, as confirmed this Tuesday at around six in morning coordinator of Doctors Without Borders aboard Aquarius.

Aloys Vimad from MSF said there was enough food and water "to give to people for two to three days".

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Malta also blocked the boat access to its shores, before Spain yesterday agreed to welcome the migrants.

While Spain's willingness to take in the Aquarius has surprised many observers, for the new Spanish government "it does make political sense for several reasons" says the BBC's Guy Hedgecoe.

League leader Matteo Salvini was sworn in as interior minister earlier this month and has vowed to clamp down on illegal immigration and change European Union rules.

Since 2015, thousands of people have fled war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia with Italy and Greece being the main entry points to Europe.

It added: "The better option would be to disembark the rescued people in the nearest port after which they can be transferred to Spain or other safe countries for further care and legal processing".

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