Malta rescues 114 migrants from sinking dinghy

Malta rescues 114 migrants from sinking dinghy

Adding: "Stop human traffickers and their accomplices, #closedports and #openhearts".

The vessel, which is jointly operated by MSF and SOS Mediterranee, is understood to have rescued the migrants on Friday.

The MV Aquarius rescue ship is seen as migrants on are rescued by the SOS Mediterranee organisation during a search and rescue (SAR) operation in the Mediterranean Sea, off the Libyan Coast, September 14, 2017.

Transport minister Danilo Toninelli said as the boat flew under the flag of a British territory, the United Kingdom was responsible for the migrants.

In June, the orange-hulled Aquarius picked up 629 migrants, including scores of children and seven pregnant women, but first Italy and then Malta refused to let it dock, provoking a row within the heart of the European Union over immigration policy. Spain is also reportedly unlikely to allow it to dock in its ports.

Danilo Toninelli, the transport and infrastructure minister and a senior member of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), said via Twitter on Monday that the rescue was co-ordinated by the Libyan coast guard and the rescue ship was in Maltese waters, sailing under the flag of Gibraltar.

"What is of utmost importance is that the survivors are brought to a place of safety without delay, where their basic needs can be met and where they can be protected from abuse".

The Aquarius spent nine days at sea in June after Italy's new populist government took office and shut its ports to all humanitarian boats, calling them a "taxi service" and accusing them of helping people smugglers - charges the charities deny.

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Spokeswoman Tove Ernst 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".

The Malta government said that it has no legal obligation to offer safe harbor to the Aquarius migrants, since it didn't coordinate the rescue, which took place outside of the search and rescue area it is responsible for.

114 migrants were rescued by an AFM patrol boat and brought to Malta.

"Aquarius has now reached a standby position exactly between Malta and Italy and is awaiting further guidance", MSF said in a tweet.

Though departures from Libya have fallen dramatically this year, people smugglers are still pushing some boats out to sea and an estimated 720 people died in June and July when charity ships were mainly absent, Amnesty International estimates.

SOS Mediterranee said many of those aboard were extremely weak and malnourished.

Protracted feuds between EU states over how to handle immigrants have thrown the issue back onto the European agenda.

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