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Aquarius denied entry to Malta and Italy - Doctors Without Borders

Sea rescue vessel and 141 rescued migrants stuck at sea

Rescued people rest aboard the Aquarius. Photo: Reuters

Rescued people rest aboard the Aquarius. Photo: Reuters

Updated 5.45pm 

A sea rescue vessel carrying 141 men, women and children saved at sea has been denied entry into Malta and Italy. 

The MV Aquarius has been stuck at sea since Friday, when it rescued migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean on two separate small wooden boats.

Libyan maritime authorities have informed the ship’s crew that it must find somewhere else to disembark the migrants, and on Sunday, NGO Doctors Without Borders, which jointly operates the vessel with SOS Mediterranee, called on European governments to help take the 141 people to safety.

Hopes of an amicable resolution to this latest migration stand-off however appeared to have dissipated by Monday morning, with MSF saying that maritime authorities in both Malta and Italy had denied the Aquarius permission to disembark its passengers.

Aquarius has now reached a standby position exactly between Malta and Italy and is awaiting further guidance,” MSF said in a tweet.

Italy’s government was quick to make its position known.

"It can go where it wants, not in Italy!" far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said on Twitter.  He suggested France, Germany, Britain or Malta as potential destinations.

"Stop human traffickers and their accomplices, #closedports and #openhearts", he wrote.

Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said Gibraltar, which is the Aquarius' flag country, should take responsibility.

"At this point, the United Kingdom should assume its responsibility to safeguard the castaways," Toninelli said on Twitter.

A Maltese government spokesman said that Malta was not responsible for the rescue mission but that it was monitoring the situation. 

An official statement issued some time later added that the vessel's request to enter Maltese ports was "unwarranted and without legal standing". 

"Malta was neither the coordinating nor the competent authority for such a rescue, and therefore has no legal obligation to make the arrangements to provide for a place of safety," the government said. 

READ: AFM rescues 114 migrants at sea and brings them to Malta

Spain has also distanced itself from the impasse, according to newspaper El Pais.

The vessel is one of the few which is still running Mediterranean sea rescue missions, with several other NGOs having been forced to halt their operations by hard-line policy decisions taken in Rome and Valletta.

It is the second time in recent months that the Aquarius and its crew find themselves stuck at sea.

In June, the vessel spent nine days with more than 600 rescued people aboard after Italy refused to allow the ship into its ports. Malta was also unwilling to take the ship in, with the Spanish government eventually stepping in and offering to take in the rescued migrants.

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