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

Migrants remain at sea as Italy-Malta standoff intensifies

Italy is the entry point for migrants from North Africa going to Europe.

On Sunday, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat accused Italy of "violating worldwide law" for implementing a similar policy.

In the other hand, the Maltese government insisted it was "acting in full conformity with its worldwide obligations". "Given the boat's location, it is between Italy and Malta", he added. "We comply with worldwide commitments regarding humanitarian emergencies".

"In the meantime, the Maltese government is concerned at the Italian authorities' directions being given to Acquarius on the high seas which go against global rules, and risk creating a risky situation for all those involved".

Rescue workers onboard the MV Aquarius said it will take four days to reach the port of Valencia and that the boat should be allowed access to the nearest port immediately, which now means in Italian or Maltese territory. "RCC Malta in this case is neither the competent, nor the coordinating authority".

The Aquarius, a 250-foot vessel operated by the charity SOS Mediterranee, is waiting off Sicily with 629 maritime migrants on board, including 400 people rescued by merchant ships and Italian government vessels. The group includes seven pregnant women, 123 unaccompanied minors and people suffering from burns caused from a mixture of seawater and fuel.

Italy's hardline immigration policy under its new populist government could have knock-on effects in neighbouring France, where president Emmanuel Macron has also tightened immigration laws to crack down on illegal arrivals.

The Italian government would adopt the same position with the Sea Watch 3 as it did with the Aquarius, Salvini said.

But Muscat, "while comprehending the situation", rebuffed him, Conte said in a Facebook post late Sunday.


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

Matteo Salvini, the country's new interior minister and the head of League, blocked the Aquarius' access to Italian ports. "Italy is done bending over backwards and obeying, this time THERE IS SOMEONE WHO SAYS NO", he wrote on Twitter followed by the hashtag #closethedoors. "We need to show solidarity which Italy has not shown".

An Italian Coast Guard ship met the Aquarius at sea on Tuesday to take the migrants on board, and it will carry the migrants to Spain.

"You can't create a precedent that will enable one European country to offload onto other European countries", he continued.

The expeditionary fast transport ship "USNS Trenton, in accordance with its obligations under worldwide law, rendered assistance to mariners in distress that it encountered while conducting routine operations in the Mediterranean Sea", US Navy Lt. Cmdr.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen called for the boats to "return where they came from" and said charities rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean were "the accomplices of the people-trafficking mafia".

In the meantime, she said the Aquarius, now in Maltese waters, was unable to continue its usual rescue work off the coast of Libya.

SOS Mediterranee insisted it would continue its rescue activities once the Aquarius had returned from Spain. The Rome-based rescue coordination centre gave the instructions.

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