Why Italy has closed its ports to a migrant rescue ship

Why Italy has closed its ports to a migrant rescue ship

"As such Malta will not take the said vessel in its ports", their statement continued.

The migrants now on the Aquarius were rescued during six operations within Libyan Search and Rescue Area on Saturday night. The Aquarius, a humanitarian ship run by the NGO SOS Mediterranean and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), said it saved 946 people, including 200 unaccompanied minors rescued after being found drifting on nine wooden and rubber boats.

"This is not an inhumane act", said Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, in charge of Italy's ports and coast guard.

Drama over Salvini's closed ports policy intensified Monday morning as a second migrant ship bound for Italy and presently in Libyan waters, having collected its human cargo, was also blocked by the government.

The agency's special envoy for migrants in the Mediterranean, Vincent Cochetel, underscored that "people are in distress, are running out of provisions and need help quickly".

Malta has accused Italy of violating worldwide 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.

European Union law requires asylum seekers register in the first safe country they reach, but frontline countries such as Italy and Malta say the burden needs to be shared out across the bloc.

Since Friday, the German branch of the SOS Mediterranee NGO has been rescuing migrants and asylum seekers in the Mediterranean and taking them on board Acquarius.

"It's common sense. We ask that all of Europe assume responsibility for such a delicate and important issue as is immigration", he said in a TV interview.

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The Mayor of Palermo, one of those cities keen to defy Italy's new populist, anti-establishment left-right coalition government, caught headlines with his remarks when he said of his decision to open the port: "Palermo in ancient Greek meant "complete port".

Italy's new interior minister, Matteo Salvini, said on Sunday that from now on, "Italy, too, begins to say NO to the trafficking of human beings".

The European Commission urged action.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Sunday that he had told his Italian counterpart, Giuseppe Conte, his country would not take the ship.

The vessel, now carrying 629 people, has been ordered by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre late on Sunday to stand put 35 nautical miles from Italy and 27 nautical miles from Malta.

Some 400 of the migrants were rescued by the Italian Navy, the Italian coastguard and merchant vessels before being transferred to the Aquarius.

"Malta is not acting, France rejects them, and Europe doesn't care", Salvini wrote.

Last week, Salvini said Rome should increase its deportations of migrants.

SOS Méditerranée spokesperson Mathilde Auvillain said the boat had received orders to head north after a series of sea rescues and was now was awaiting "definitive instructions".

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