EU seeks safe harbor for ship with 141 migrants

Matteo Salvini

The dinghy was taking in water but all migrants on board were rescued and taken on board the P23 patrol vessel.

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.

Migrants in distress at sea have told their rescuers that several ships passed them by without offering assistance, a European aid group said Sunday while seeking safe harbor for a rescue vessel with 141 migrants aboard.

Although arrivals in Italy of rescued migrants smuggled from Libya have sharply dropped off this year compared with previous years, some 600,000 reached Italian ports in the past few years.

"People rescued in the worldwide waters of the Mediterranean must not be returned to Libya, but should be taken to a place of safety in line with global and maritime law", MSF said in a statement, saying that numerous migrants had suffered abuse during their transit through Libya.

The MV Aquarius rescue ship is seen as migrants on are rescued by the SOS Mediterranee organisation during a search and rescue (SAR) operation in the Mediterranean Sea, off the Libyan Coast, September 14, 2017. "At this point, the United Kingdom should take responsibility for the safeguarding of the shipwrecked", Toninelli wrote on Twitter.

Sky News has contacted the UK Home Office for comment.

Malta's rescue coordination centre told the Aquarius on Saturday that it would not welcome the ship, according to the charity ship's online log.

However, Madrid has not repeated its offer, with a government spokeswoman saying: "At the moment, Spain is not the safest port because it is not the nearest one" for Aquarius to dock.

Malta said it had no legal obligation to berth the ship and Spain said its ports were not the safest destination.

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.

114 migrants, including men, women, and children, were spotted in difficulty 53 nautical miles south of Malta.

The Aquarius was still in the Mediterranean last night hoping to receive docking permission from a country.

"However, this may not be practically feasible and it is also really depending on the situation and who is coordinating where the events took place".

Protracted feuds between EU states over how to handle immigrants have thrown the issue back onto the European agenda.

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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