A BOAT carrying more than 600 migrants is stranded in the Mediterranean after Italy and Malta both refused to let it dock in their countries.
Italy’s new Interior Minister Matteo Salvini asked neighbouring Mediterranean island Malta to open its doors to the vessel on Sunday evening, after it tried to dock in Italy.
AFP or licensors The Aquarius, pictured in this file image, is floating between Malta and Sicily while waiting for a secure port
Salvini, also head of the far-right League, was attempting to make good on electoral promises to halt the flow of migrants into the country.
On Sunday he tweeted: “Starting today, Italy, too, begins to say NO to the trafficking of human beings, NO to the business of clandestine immigration.”
But Malta said it has nothing to do with the rescue operation – sparking a stand-off between the two EU countries.
The ship, named the Aquarius, has been stranded at sea for over a day while the two countries argue.
AFP or licensors Migrants stand on board the deck of the Aquarius in this file picture from May
It is transporting 629 migrants – including 123 unaccompanied minors, and seven pregnant women.
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said he personally contacted Joseph Muscat, Malta’s prime minister, to see if the country would “at least take on the human assistance of persons in difficulty aboard the Aquarius”.
But Muscat rebuffed him, Conte said in a Facebook post late Sunday.
He said the prime minister’s response: “Confirms the latest unwillingness of Malta and, thus, of Europe, to intervene and take care of the emergency.”
AFP or licensors The Aquarius has been stranded at sea for over a day (file image)
On Sunday night, Conte said Italy was sending two motorboats with medical staff aboard in case the migrants needed help, but he made no mention of how the Aquarius might ever get into port.
Salvini and Italian Transportation Minister Danilo Toninelli, said in a joint statement Sunday that it was Malta’s responsibility to “open its ports for the hundreds of the rescued”.
The ministers said: “The island can’t continue to turn the other way. “The Mediterranean is the sea of all the countries that face it, and it [Malta] can’t imagine that Italy will continue to face this giant phenomenon in solitude.”
Reuters New Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini is taking a hard stance on letting migrants into Italy
More than 600,000 migrants have reached Italy by boat from Africa in the past five years.
Numbers have dropped dramatically in recent months, but there has been a rise in rescues in recent days, presenting Salvini with his first test as minister.
The Aquarius is operated by the charity SOS Mediterranean, which said on Twitter earlier on Sunday that the group on board were mainly sub-Saharan Africans picked up in six different rescue operations off the coast of Libya.
The aid group said in a statement it had taken “good note” of Salvini’s stance, as reported earlier by Italian media.