Spain to offer "safe port" for ‘Aquarius’ migrant rescue ship in Valencia

Italy's spat with Malta began after its reported refusal to come to the aid of another rescue ship Seefuchs, which was stranded with 126 migrants on board due to violent seas until it was allowed to dock in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo on Saturday.

Mayors of Naples and Palermo in turn vented their anger at Salvini, as they stated that their cities would be more than happy to accept those in need of shelter despite the fact that both cities had been suffering from major migrant influx in the past five years.

The standoff is actually the third migrant dispute in recent weeks, after Italy's outgoing government refused to let humanitarian aid groups dock in Italian ports until the ships' flag nations had formally requested permission.

He said Malta should accept the Aquarius, but the government in Valletta said those rescued fall under Italy's jurisdiction as they were picked up the migrants in Libyan waters.

One Aquarius crew member, Alessandro Porro, told Italian news channel Sky TG24 that they desperately needed to know which port to go to.

The migrants were saved by SOS Mediterranee on Saturday and are stuck aboard the French NGO's ship Aquarius, which is now between Malta and Sicily waiting for a secure port for her to dock.

"This Europe is not showing solidarity", Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said, adding that "Italy has to deal with the problem" of illegal human trafficking and migration flows "all by itself".

The migrant influx has led to a populist backlash, with Salvini vowing to prevent Italy from becoming the "refugee camp of Europe".

Rescue at sea is regulated by global law, which "is clear on the fact that any shipmaster has the obligation to provide assistance to persons in distress at sea", said Dr. Sarah Wolff, a lecturer in Public Policy at Queen Mary University, London.

Salvini took to social media within minutes to celebrate the news.

Italy and Malta are the closest ports to Libya.

Spain's new prime minister Pedro Sanchez informed Rome the ports of Barcelona and Valencia would open their doors to the Aquarius "by the end of the week". Italy has long demanded that the European Union change its migration policy and make good on promises to accept more refugees, saying that Italy has been left alone to co-ordinate rescues and accept tens of thousands of migrants a year for asylum processing.

Mr Salvini says he is considering action against organisations rescuing migrants at sea.

SOS Mediterranee said late Sunday that it had received instructions from Italian authorities to hold position between Malta and Italy after previously heading north.

The UN had called on Malta and Italy to immediately allow the boat to dock, describing the situation as "an urgent humanitarian imperative".

Increasing safe returns for migrants to their countries after fair and efficient procedures is a reasonable policy objective.

As of June 6, there had been an estimated 785 deaths on the route this year, the IOM said, with the majority of the 33,400 migrants and refugees arriving through Greece and Italy.

This is something of a PR disaster for the new government, particularly since the shipload of refugees includes seven pregnant women and dozens of unaccompanied minors. Those incidents delayed the migrants' arrival, but they ultimately made it to Italy.

  • Jon Douglas