By Kunle SHONUGA
Italy on Monday urged Britain to take in 141 migrants aboard a charity-run rescue boat because the vessel is registered in the British holding of Gibraltar, Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said Monday.
The Aquarius, run by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), picked up the migrants off the coast of Libya on Friday.
“The boat is now in Maltese waters and has a Gibraltar flag. At this point, the United Kingdom should take responsibility for the safeguarding of the shipwrecked,” Toninelli wrote on Twitter.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who leads the anti-migrants League party, also took to Twitter to say that the Aquarius “can go wherever it wants, [but] not to Italy.”
Italy has a new populist government which, since taking office on June 1, has closed its ports to non-governmental organizations, specialising in migrant rescue, and called for all sea migrants to be sent back to Libya or distributed across other EU nations.
In an online blog, the Aquarius crew reported Monday that their ship had been refused port docking rights by Italy and Malta and was standing by at 60 km from European shores.
A day earlier, SOS Mediterranee and MSF said the Libyan coastguard coordinated their rescue activities, but refused to tell them where the Aquarius could take the migrants.
They also said rescued migrants “told our teams that they encountered five different ships which did not offer them assistance before they were rescued by Aquarius.”
According to the NGOs, 70 per cent of the migrants hail from Somalia and Eritrea and “many” are “extremely weak and malnourished” and “report that they were held in inhumane conditions in Libya