Rescue ship stripped of flag amid dispute over migrants stranded at sea

Sergio Conner
August 14, 2018

"The vessel [Aquarius ] is now in global waters off Malta and the island of Lampedusa, awaiting the designation of a safe port in accordance with worldwide maritime law", SOS Mediterranee chief Sophie Beau told French radio station France Info.

"The boat is now in Maltese waters and has a Gibraltar flag".

"At this point, the United Kingdom should assume its responsibility to safeguard the castaways", the minister, from the populist Five Star Movement, said on Twitter Monday.

Britain must step in to save 141 migrants stranded on a charity rescue ship after Italy closed its ports to the vessel, Rome has demanded.

On Sunday, SOS Mediterranee and MSF said the Libyan coastguard coordinated their rescue activities, but refused to tell them where they could take the migrants.

The migrant rescue vessel, MV Aquarius is extremely unlikely to dock in Gibraltar, even though it is registered here, GBC understands.

Most of the migrants are from Eritrea and Somalia and 67 are unaccompanied minors.

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The migrants were brought to Malta and disembarked this evening at the AFM maritime base in Floriana. "Stop human traffickers and their accomplices".

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

Matteo Salvini, the interior minister, said on Saturday that Aquarius would "never see an Italian port" again. "The requests for such vessel to enter ports are unwarranted and without legal standing", the government said.

Earlier, Malta's armed forces rescued 114 migrants from a rubber dinghy taking on water 53 nautical miles south of Malta and brought them back to the Mediterranean island.

In June, the Aquarius ended up taking some 630 migrants to Spain, which welcomed it.

An estimated 720 people died in June and July when charity ships were mainly absent, Amnesty International estimates. "We're asking them to be responsible and find a safe port in the Mediterranean", she said, accusing Italy and Malta of flouting global maritime law.

European Union border agency Frontex said on Monday it counted 73 500 "irregular border crossings" into the bloc so far this year via the sea and the Western Balkans route, more than 40 per cent fewer than in the first seven months of 2017.

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