France says Italy flouting international law on migrant ship

The humanitarian ship Aquarius currently 43 nautical miles off Malta's coast carrying 629 migrants

The humanitarian ship Aquarius currently 43 nautical miles off Malta's coast carrying 629 migrants

SOS Mediterranee tweeted late on Sunday that the Aquarius had "received instructions from the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre to standby in our current position which is 35 nautical miles from #Italy and 27 nautical miles from #Malta".

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

Malta is accusing 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. "RCC Malta in this case is neither the competent, nor the coordinating authority".

"Rome is that rescued people will later be transferred on Italian ships before heading together to" the eastern Spanish port of Valencia, the charity said on Twitter.

On June 10, Italy's new Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini declined to allow the Aquarius to dock in Italy, instead calling on Malta to accept the ship.

The UN had called on Malta and Italy to immediately allow the boat to dock, describing the situation as "an urgent humanitarian imperative".

European charity SOS Mediterranee said on Twitter earlier that its rescue boat, Aquarius, had taken on board 629 migrants, including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and seven pregnant women.

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The Aquarius took on the migrants from human traffickers' boats in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday.

Italy's hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini insisted that Malta "cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise global conventions on the protection of human life".

Sky News says "the refusal - a realisation of tough anti-immigration promises made by Italy's new government - left those on board in mortal danger and prompted a diplomatic spat over the future of migrants travelling across the Mediterranean".

The first group of migrants have been transferred from the humanitarian ship Aquarius - which had rescued 629 migrants crossing from Libya - to an Italian coast guard vessel, reports say.

MSF Sea Project Coordinator Aloys Vimard told Euronews that his team was "well prepared" and the boat contained enough food and water to house its passengers for between two and three days.

The emergency was prompting vastly different reactions in European capitals.

Malta insisted that Italy was legally obliged to take the vessel in and refused to allow the vessel into Malta, before Spain ultimately stepped in and agreed to take in the Aquarius.

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Italy sent hundreds of migrants towards Spain in a small naval convoy on Tuesday after shutting its own ports to them, sparking a war of words with France that exposed European Union tensions over immigration.

A child looks on as Nigerian Christians pray aboard rescue ship MV Aquarius, off the coast of Sicily on May 14, 2018.

As the crisis was unfolding over the weekend, the Five Star leader, Luigi Di Maio, shared a tweet from Trump in which he praised the coalition's prime minister, Giuseppe Conte. Viktor Orban said his initial reaction to the news was a sigh of "Finally!" Speaking Tuesday after a meeting with his Slovak counterpart, Peter Pellegrini, Hungarian PM Victor Orbán was quoted as saying that Italy's decision was a "great moment which may truly bring changes in Europe's migration policies".

Many Spanish regions and cities have offered to provide long-term support to the migrants, said Valencia's regional vice president, Monica Oltra.

Yesterday the Red Cross was preparing shelter and medical assistance to meet immediate needs on arrival.

Doctors without Borders expressed particular concern for patients who had been resuscitated and risked developing "significant pulmonary disease after swallowing sea water".

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