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Spain offers to take in stranded migrant ship

By AFP - Jun 12,2018 - Last updated at Jun 12,2018

The MV Aquarius rescue ship is seen as migrants are rescued by the SOS Mediterranee organisation during a search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast on September 14, 2017 (Reuters file photo)

ROME — Spain offered on Monday to take in a ship stranded in the Mediterranean with 629 migrants aboard after Italy and Malta refused to let the vessel dock in their ports.

The migrants, including pregnant women and scores of children, were saved by the French charity SOS Mediterranee on Saturday.

They were taken on board its ship Aquarius, which is now between Malta and Sicily.

Malta and the new populist government in Italy each refused to take the migrants in, accusing one another of failing to meet their obligations.

The row has triggered international concern about the migrants' plight.

The refusal to accept the Aquarius in Italy was the first major anti-migrant move since far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini took office this month.

But Spain's new Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez agreed to allow the Aquarius to dock in its eastern port of Valencia, his office said in a statement.

"It is our obligation to help to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and to offer a safe port to these people," his office said in a statement.


Fresh supplies 


SOS Mediterranee Director General Sophie Beau said Spain's offer "is encouraging and shows that some states are sensitive to the humanitarian emergency”.

She warned that the ship will have to travel some 1,300 kilometres to reach the Spanish coast and that by Tuesday "there will be no more food [on board] apart from energy biscuits".

Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said in a tweet that "Malta is going to send fresh supplies to the ship”.

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

"We asked for a gesture of solidarity from Europe and this gesture has been made," Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said.

Muscat tweeted his thanks to Sanchez "for agreeing to accept the Aquarius after Italy violated international law and caused an impasse".

He added: "It will be necessary to sit down and discuss how to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future. This is a European issue."

Beau said that under maritime law the ship should be allowed to dock in one of the nearest countries, Italy or Malta.


'Close the doors' 


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

The EU and the bloc's biggest member state Germany made similar pleas.

"The priority of both the Italian and Maltese authorities should be ensuring these people receive the care they need," European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters, calling for a "swift resolution".

Salvini refused to back down.

"Saving lives is a duty, turning Italy into a huge refugee camp is not. Italy is done bending over backwards and obeying, this time there is someone who says no," he wrote on Twitter followed by the hashtag #closethedoors.

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