Published: Tue, August 14, 2018
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Italy refuses safe harbour to charity ship carrying migrants

Italy refuses safe harbour to charity ship carrying migrants

A ship carrying almost 150 migrants who were rescued in Mediterranean Sea is searching for a place to dock, after being denied entry to ports in Malta and Italy, its owners said.

On Monday, Italian transport minister Danilo Toninelli urged the United Kingdom to "assume its responsibility" for the migrants because the ship sails under the flag of Gibraltar, a British territory.

Italy called on Britain to welcome the Aquarius because it was registered in Gibraltar, but the British territory on Spain's southern coast said it should go to an Italian port.

"Stop human traffickers and their accomplices", he wrote.

The European Commission was in touch with several EU states and trying to help resolve the "incident" with the Aquarius, a spokesman in Brussels said.

The vessel, Aquarius, rescued migrants from worldwide waters on Friday with the help of Libya.

"The boat is now in Maltese waters and has a Gibraltar flag".

The director of the French port of Sete on the Mediterranean coast said meanwhile Monday that he would be prepared to let the boat, carrying migrants mostly from Somalia and Eritrea to dock if the government gave the all clear. She added that while Britain could theoretically be considered as a destination port, it was not practically feasible to bring the ship there. The dinghy was taking in water but all migrants on board were rescued and taken on board the P23 patrol vessel.

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

Official sources in Spain say they are reluctant to accept more migrants because global law calls for the country nearest the rescue, in this case Italy or Malta, to be responsible for the refugees.

The Aquarius, one of the last two NGO vessels still operating in the central Mediterranean. was the first charity ship to be turned away from Italian ports in early June, before being taken in by Spain.

Due to pressure from Italy and Malta, most charity ships are no longer patrolling off the coast of Libya.

French President Emmanuel Macron was the most outspoken critic of Italy during the June stand-off but has never allowed migrant ships to dock at its ports.

An estimated 720 people died in June and July when charity ships were mainly absent, Amnesty International estimates.

For years, Italy pleaded with its European Union partners for help with a massive influx of arrivals from Africa that has seen 700,000 people cross the Mediterranean and land in the country since 2013.

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