Stranded migrants to be taken to Spain, says French charity

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

Spain has offered to take in a humanitarian ship stranded in worldwide waters with 629 refugees aboard, prompting Italy's new anti-establishment government to claim victory in its bid to "stop the death boats".

The Aquarius ship picked up the migrants, including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and seven pregnant women, from inflatable boats off the coast of Libya during the weekend.

The Italian government said it had written to Malta asking to let the vessel, Aquarius, dock there.

Aquarius was ordered to hold its position, 35 nautical miles from shore, by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center on Sunday evening.

He said yesterday: "It is our duty to help avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a safe port to these people, to comply with our human rights obligations".

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the Socialist Party, said on Monday the Aquarius search-and-rescue vessel will be able to dock in Valencia.

SOS Mediterranee said an approaching storm would bring with it waves of over 2 metres (6.5 ft) making any trip to Spain highly uncomfortable.

Late on Monday, the Aquarius's rescue coordinator, Nicola Stalla, had said that it would be impossible for the entire group of migrants to make the journey to Valencia on board the rescue ship, as it would mean sleeping out in the open in deteriorating weather conditions.

Drownings in the Mediterranean began surging in 2013 as Europe's worst migration crisis since World War II began picking up speed, with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere. He tells VOA there is no merit to the suggestion that people in distress will be dissuaded from crossing the sea in flimsy boats if they know rescue is not a possibility.

The Aquarius had been instructed by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Rome "to transfer 400 of the 629 refugees and migrants now on board back to Italian Navy ships which will then head to Valencia to disembark", MSF Sea tweeted.

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Malta and Italy thanked Spain for stepping up, but maintained their dispute over who was responsible.

One of the coalition partners in the populist government that took over in Italy on June 1, the right-wing League, promised voters other European Union countries would be made to share the burden of caring for asylum-seekers who set out for Europe on unseaworthy smugglers' boats.

Salvini, who was only recently appointed as Italy's deputy prime minister and interior minister, has taken a hard-line approach against migrants, stating that his country would clamp down on new arrivals.

But Salvini said his hard-line stance was aimed at only foreign NGOs for the moment and an Italian coast guard ship was expected to dock in Sicily in the coming hours carrying some 937 migrants, also rescued off Libya.

Malta allows a small number of emergency evacuations from rescue ships, but has always refused large numbers.

"Malta is in full conformity with global obligations and will not take the vessel in its ports", Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted.

Migrants aboard SOS Mediterranee's Aquarius ship after being rescued in the Mediterranean Sea, in a photo released by by French NGO "SOS Mediterranee".

Palermo Mayor Leoluca Orlando said Salvini was "violating worldwide law which makes saving lives a priority".

MSF called for immediate permission to reach land and reported that some passengers on board had chemical burns and hypothermia which need treatment.

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