Standoff in Mediterranean as Italy demands Malta take 629 stranded migrants
The Aquarius, which is carrying 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children and seven pregnant women, who were saved from Libyan waters last night, is currently in Libyan territorial waters.
VALLETTA, June 10 (Xinhua) -- Italy has closed its ports to a ship currently carrying 629 migrants who were rescued in Libyan waters, and is demanding that they be taken to Malta.
International laws lays down that rescued people have to be taken to the closest safe harbor.
The rescues took place in an area that is much closer to Tunis or the Italian island of Lampedusa than Malta. The migrants were then transferred to the Aquarius.
Despite Italy's insistence that the Maltese government declare Malta the safest port of call, the country has so far refused to do so.
Most of the migrants on the Aquarius were actually rescued by the Italian Navy itself in operations coordinated by the Rome Rescue Coordination Center.
The two countries are engaged in a second migrant standoff in just three days after Italy's new Home Affairs minister Matteo Salvini said last week that Malta would have to start accepting migrant boats crossing over from North Africa.
Slavini has repeatedly stated that the Italian government's policy would be to stop NGOs from acting as "sea taxis" making it easier for migrants to get to Europe.
Earlier in the day, Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat insisted that his government would ensure that Maltese interests are safeguarded while respecting international laws.
"The rescue happened in the Libyan search and rescue area and it was coordinated by the rescue coordination center in Rome. Malta is neither the coordinating authority and has no competence on this case," a Maltese government spokesperson said.