Spain offers safe harbor to migrant ship

SOS Mediterranee's ship the Aquarius, carried 400 people who were picked up by the Italian navy

Since Italy's navy had coordinated the initial rescue effort, and even transferred some of the migrants its own navy had saved to the rescue ship staffed by volunteer aid workers, it was obliged by worldwide law to ensure their safety.

Salvini, the leader of the right wing League party, is for now the most prominent voice in Italy's new government.

They were taken on board its ship Aquarius, which is now between Malta and Sicily.

He tweeted: #Chiudiamoiporti. "We're closing the ports".

Spain offered its Port of Valencia as a safe harbor for the migrants, but it will take several days before the Aquarius reaches port.

Migrants on a rubber boat are rescued by the SOS Mediterranee organisation during a search and rescue operation with the MV Aquarius rescue ship (background) in the Mediterranean Sea, September 14, 2017.

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A volunteer, Alessandro Porro, said the people on the ship - majority from sub-Sahara Africa - welcomed the announcement Tuesday that their destination would be Spain.

While Spain's foreign minister said he hoped its gesture of solidarity would help push other European Union members to re-examine migrant policy at a summit later this month, French President Emmanuel Macron criticized Italy's cynicism and irresponsibility for leaving the migrants at sea, while also deflecting criticism for not allowing the ship to dock in France.

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

On Sunday, Italy refused the Aquarius permission to enter a port of refuge to offload the migrants.

Under EU rules migrants must apply for asylum in the European country where they first arrive.

Italy has taken in more than 640,000 mainly African migrants over the past five years.

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"From now also Italy begins to say NO to the traffic of human beings, NO to the business of illegal immigration".

"No one should dare brand Italy or its government as inhumane or xenophobic", Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli told Radio Capital.

Matteo Salvini, the country's new interior minister and the head of League, blocked the Aquarius' access to Italian ports.

The prolonged trip will worsen the already critical conditions of some of those on board, they said. Another 21 patients suffered severe chemical burns from exposure to sea water mixed with fuel, while others need immediate surgery for orthopedic issues.

The Aquarius is one of the few remaining non-profit rescue ships left in the central Mediterranean, where so far this year 784 migrants have drowned during the crossing, according to figures from the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Many were transferred from the overcrowded Aquarius, operated by aid group SOS Méditerranée, to an Italian navy warship and a coastguard vessel. It came just after a fatal day in the Mediterranean, with at least 112 people estimated drowned when a boat that departed from the Tunisian coast sank at sea, and nine people, including six children, died in the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece.

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European charity SOS Mediterranee said on Twitter its rescue boat Aquarius had taken on board 629 migrants and refugees, including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children, and seven pregnant women.

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