MS Aquarius: why did Spain accept the disputed migrant ship?

MS Aquarius: why did Spain accept the disputed migrant ship?

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Sunday that he had told his Italian counterpart, Giuseppe Conte, his country would not take the ship.

People on board the vessel, which has been stranded in the Mediterranean after both Italy and Malta refused to allow it to dock at the weekend, will be transferred to Italian ships and be given food and water.

The Aquarius is one of the few remaining non-profit rescue ships left in the central Mediterranean, where so far this year 784 migrants have drowned during the crossing, according to figures from the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Its route north will take it past Malta, and the Italian government said its port authorities had written to the small island state asking it to let the Aquarius dock there. He said there was a moral "obligation to help to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe".

While thanking Spain for their offer of help, the Maltese Prime minister said Italy had broken global rules and that there was a need to sit down with European partners to avoid an incident like this from happening again.

He said Malta would be sending fresh supplies to the vessel, adding: "We will have to sit down and discuss how to prevent this from happening again. This is a European issue", he said on Twitter.

"We will not change (our position) on ships belonging to non-governmental organisations", Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said in an interview with the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

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Mayor Filippo Nogarin - a member of the Five Star Movement (M5S), the anti-establishment party now governing Italy in coalition with the nationalist League - had said that he was ready to "open the port of Livorno and take in the ship Aquarius with its cargo of 629 human lives". None of migrants are critical but re are many patients, re are seven pregnant women, ten children, 123 unaccompanied minors. All three ships would then sail to the Spanish port of Valencia on a voyage expected to take four days.

"If the French have the humility to say they are sorry, we can put it behind us and be friends like before", Salvini told reporters on the sidelines of a business conference.

"We call on all involved to contribute to a swift resolution so that the people on board the Aquarius may be safely disembarked as soon as possible".

Under EU rules, migrants must apply for asylum in the European country where they first arrive.

"Our objective is the disembarkation in a port of safety of the 629 people now on board the Aquarius - some we rescued yesterday night in hard conditions", she was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The regional leader of Spain's Basque Country, Inigo Urkullu, said the region was prepared to take care of 10 percent of the passengers.

The summer of 2016 saw a surge in mass drownings in the Mediterranean as Europe's worst migration crisis since World War II peaked with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere.

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