Migrants disembark from the Danish-flagged container ship Alexander Maersk at the Sicilian port of Pozzallo, southern Italy, early Tuesday, June 26, 2018. The Maersk, with more than 100. migrants on board, had remained off the coast of Pozzallo for days after taking part in a rescue Thursday of migrants leaving Libya on smugglers' boats. (AP Photo/Salvatore Cavalli)

Rescue boat heading to Malta; Italy to take some migrants

June 26, 2018 - 9:48 am

MILAN (AP) — A German aid ship carrying more than 200 migrants headed toward Malta after Italy agreed Tuesday to take in some of the passengers, ending Europe's second impasse this month over the people rescued off Libya's coast by private humanitarian groups.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said after a phone call with the Maltese prime minister that the boat operated by Mission Lifeline would disembark in Malta and its legal standing would be investigated.

"Italy will do its part to accept a quota of migrants aboard the Lifeline, with the hope that also other European countries would do the same, as some have previously indicated," Conte said in a statement.

The Lifeline has been blocked in the Mediterranean Sea since last week, when both Italy and Malta refused to grant it access to their ports.

The impasse was similar to another this month over the Aquarius, a rescue ship operated by French aid groups. The ship carrying 630 migrants had its journey to land extended by a week after Malta and Italy would not grant docking rights. Spain ultimately agreed to accept the passengers, and the Aquarius traveled an additional 1,500-kilometers (900-miles) to get there.

Italy's Sky TG24, which visited the Lifeline on Monday, said it was about four times over passenger capacity and running low on fuel. According to Sky, it had on board 224 migrants, including eight children, and 10 crew members.

Italy's new hard-line interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has made clear he doesn't want rescue ships run by non-governmental agencies to ferry migrants to Italy any more. Conte is pressing is European peers to take on more of the migrant burden when they meet at a summit later this week.

In a tweet about the Lifeline, Salvini said the "illegal ship will finally be seized" when it arrives in Malta, adding, "For women and children truly fleeing war, the ports are open, for all the others, no."

Salvini has likened the ships run by private aid groups under non-Italian flags to taxi services that are serving migrant smugglers.

Italy hasn't taken the same position with other ships. It allowed the Danish-flagged container ship Alexander Maersk to dock and disembark 108 migrants in Sicily on Tuesday after days at sea.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat earlier pressed other EU nations to take on a share of the migrants. He also said that Malta intended to investigate the actions of the ship's captain, who ignored instructions from Italian authorities coordinating the rescue. Authorities have also questioned the legality of the ship, which has a Dutch flag but is run by a German group.

In his proposals for dealing with migration, Conte has emphasized that migrants arriving in Italy are arriving in Europe, and responsibility for them should be shared by all the member states.

"The obligation of rescue cannot become an obligation to process all the requests on behalf of everyone," the proposal reads, asserting that only 7 percent of migrants arriving in Europe qualify as refugees.

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