Italy refuses safe harbour to charity ship carrying migrants

Italy refuses safe harbour to charity ship carrying migrants

A humanitarian vessel now believed to be carrying 141 rescued migrants has been denied entry into Italy and Malta, NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Monday.

The Gibraltar government said in a statement the ship could no longer fly a Gibraltar flag from August 20 and should revert back to the "underlying owners' flag", which is Germany.

Malta has also rejected letting the ship dock.

"Stop human traffickers and their accomplices", he wrote.

The Aquarius spent nine days at sea in June after Italy's new populist government took office and shut its ports to all humanitarian boats, calling them a "taxi service" and accusing them of helping people smugglers - charges the charities deny.

Separately, the Maltese government said that it has no legal obligation to offer safe harbor to another group of 141 migrants picked up at sea Friday by the Aquarius rescue ship, since it was neither the coordinating nor the competent authority for the rescue.

Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, who oversees ports and the coast guard, tweeted that, because of the Gibraltar connection, Britain "should assume its responsibility to safeguard the castaways".

A European Commission spokeswoman said there "could be a case for a flag state to be responsible" for the ship but cautioned that it "may not be practically feasible".

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On Monday SOS Mediterranee said it had reached a standby position "exactly between Malta and Italy and awaits to be assigned a place of safety".

It is the only rescue ship in the area of the Mediterranean where migrants' vessels are known to capsize.

It ended up having to go to Spain with over 600 migrants it rescued transported with the help of an Italian escort.

When asked why the ship had not made for Libya, the nearest port at the time of rescue, Beau said that, according to global law: "A safe port is a port in which people can obtain protection, which is absolutely not the case in Libya in the current situation".

However this time a Spanish government source told AFP that, as Spain is not the nearest port, "it is not the safest port" for the migrant ship to dock.

SOS Mediterranee said the Libya rescue coordination center didn't inform it about migrant boats in distress despite knowing the Aquarius was nearby.

Though departures from Libya have fallen dramatically this year, people smugglers are still pushing some boats out to sea and an estimated 720 people died in June and July when charity ships were mainly absent, Amnesty International estimates.

For years, Italy pleaded with its European Union partners for help with a massive influx of arrivals from Africa that has seen 700,000 people cross the Mediterranean and land in the country since 2013.

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