Aquarius standoff: As Malta and Italy squabble, migrants pray on stranded ship

"Malta takes in nobody". "This could compromise all the work and cooperation between us over the past few years".

SOS Mediterranee, which runs the Aquarius, said the ship was instructed by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre on Sunday to stand by at 35 nautical miles from Italy and 27 nautical miles from Malta.

Malta's ports will not take in the Acquarius vessel with hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers on board, which has been stranded in the Mediterranean after the Italian authorities had refused to accept it.

SOS Mediterranee said the passengers on its ship, the Aquarius, included 400 people who were picked up by the Italian navy, the country's coastguard and private cargo ships and transferred.

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Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League party, said Malta should take in the ship, the Aquarius, but his request was rejected. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini tweeted Sunday that from now on, "Italy, too, begins to say NO to the trafficking of human beings".

Speaking to news channel Sky TG24, Aquarius crew member Alessandro Porro said that they were north of Malta and had "received no communications from the Maltese authorities".

SOS Mediterranee confirmed that there were 629 people on board, including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and seven pregnant women after being involved in six rescue operations off the coast of Libya.

Tweeting out the hashtag #CloseMyPorts, Salvini identified the Sea Watch 3, a Dutch-flagged vessel working for a German open-borders group, telling his followers: "Italy has stopped bending its head and obeying, this is the time where we say no".

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And the crisis between the Mediterranean countries may be far from being over, as Italian newspaper Repubblica reported that 800 more people have been saved by both Italian and global boats in Libyan waters overnight. It added that the Aquarius "is still waiting for definitive instructions regarding the port of safety". We have always welcomed rescue boats and vessels who saved lives at sea.

The UN refugee agency on Monday called on Italy and Malta to immediately allow a boat carrying hundreds of migrants to dock, describing the situation as "an urgent humanitarian imperative".

Despite the claim by Mayor Orlando that the government stands in opposition to worldwide law by closing the ports to migrant smuggling operations, a distinguished expert on global maritime law Admiral Paolo Caffio has given his verdict, stating that not only is it legal, but there is also precedent, reports Il Giornale. The lawlessness in Libya has made it a popular place for migrants to try to depart for Europe.

The United Nations estimates that at least 500 people have died in 2018 trying to cross the central Mediterranean, following some 2853 fatalities previous year.

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