Row over ship with 600 migrants aboard adrift off Italy

Mayors in Naples, Messina, Reggio Calabria, and Palermo stood against the poll-topping, recently installed Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini Sunday after he said the migrant ship Aquarius would be turned away from Italy, reports Italy's Il Giornale.

Salvini's comments came after another spat with Malta following 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.

The French organisation said that among those saved and brought on board are 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 small children and seven pregnant women.

The migrants had been rescued during a series of operations Saturday by Italian maritime ships, cargo vessels and the Aquarius itself.

Salvini, the leader of the far-right League, was rejected by Malta who said the ship fell under Italy's jurisdiction.

Salvini, in a joint statement with Italian coastguard minister Danilo Toninelli, insisted that Malta "cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise global conventions on the protection of human life". "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 in solitude".

Italy's new interior minister has refused permission for a rescue vessel to drop off more than 600 migrants picked up off Libya's coast. The Rome-based rescue coordination centre gave the instructions.

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Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said Italy's refusal to allow the Aquarius ship to dock at an Italian port risks "creating a unsafe situation for all those involved".

He also complained, on Facebook that: "Malta takes in nobody".

Prime Minister Muscat reiterated that Malta is acting in full conformity with its global obligations.

"We want to show that we were a very open port and now the European Union needs to take responsibility and it has to do it now". Salvini has attacked aid agencies for providing what he called a "taxi service" to migrants from Africa to Italy. Italy is the main entry for migrants crossing from North Africa to Europe.

"Starting today, Italy, too, begins to say NO to the trafficking of human beings, NO to the business of clandestine immigration", Salvini tweeted Sunday.

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.

"Our only objective is the disembarkation in a port of safety of the people that we rescued yesterday in hard conditions", it said, adding that it "took good note" of the Italian Interior Ministry's statements.

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