Migrant rescue boat waits to dock after Italy threatens to close ports

Italy shuts ports to rescue ship carrying 629 migrants

Mr Salvini's stance could herald the eventual closing of all Italian ports to NGO vessels with migrants on board, the Italian press speculated.

"From today, Italy will also start to say no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration".

The decision was backed by other mayors in Italy's south, including those in Naples, Messina and Reggio Calabria, who all said they were ready to disobey Salvini's order and allow Aquarius to dock and disembark in their seaports, the Guardian reported.

The Maltese authorities have been insisting that since the rescue happened in the Libyan search and rescue area and was coordinated from Rome, Malta is neither the coordinating authority nor has the competence to settle this issue, thus it would not take in the migrants and asylum seekers.

The Maltese prime minister also expressed concern over the Italian authorities' directions given to the Aquarius vessel, adding that such policies contradicted global norms, and might lead to unsafe developments.

"The Mediterranean is the sea of all the countries that face it, and it (Malta) can't imagine that Italy will continue to face this giant phenomenon (of migration) in solitude", the ministers said.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said he personally contacted Malta's prime minister, Joseph Muscat, to "explicitly at least take on the human assistance of persons in difficulty aboard the Aquarius".

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More than 600,000 migrants have reached Italy by boat from Africa in the past five years.

"Our objective is the disembarkation in a port of safety of the 629 people now on board the Aquarius - some we rescued yesterday night in hard conditions", she was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The SOS Mediterranee said the migrants were picked up in six separate overnight operations in the central Mediterranean on Saturday.

Sea-Watch said police also questioned some of the rescued migrants who, after being processed by the authorities, are likely to end up in reception centres. The vessel, now carrying 629 people, was ordered by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center late on Sunday to remain 35 nautical miles from Italy and 27 nautical miles from Malta. Some 400 of the migrants were rescued by the Italian Navy, the Italian coastguard and merchant vessels before being transferred to the Aquarius. The cause of death was yet to be determined.

To the east, Libya's coast guard intercepted 152 migrants, including women and children, from two boats stopped in the Mediterranean off the coast of the western Zuwara district Saturday.

Human rights groups oppose returning rescued migrants to Libya, where many are held in inhumane conditions, poorly fed and often forced to do slave labor.

However, Italian officials say 13,500 migrants have been registered so far this year.

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