The Latest: Migrant rescue ship faces hurdles reaching Spain

The Latest: Migrant rescue ship faces hurdles reaching Spain
The Associated Press

ROME (AP) — The Latest on the flow of migrants into Europe (all times local):

4:55 p.m.

The maritime operations manager of the aid group whose rescue ship has been stranded at sea while carrying 629 migrants says landing in Spain — the only offer on the table — would be a major technical challenge.

Antoine Laurent said on Monday it would take at least two more days for the vessel to make it there and that “is not possible today with 629 people on board.”

Lauren said from Paris that SOS Mediterranee’s vessel, Aquarius, would need to be resupplied at sea, “which is not so easy to organize.”

So, he said, “we urge Italy to find a solution very soon close to our position.”

The Aquarius rescued the migrants from human traffickers’ boats in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday. Italy and Malta refused to let the ship dock. Spain’s prime minister offered to let it port in Valencia.


3:35 p.m.

The leaders of Italy and Malta are thanking Spain for allowing a rescue ship with 629 migrants aboard to dock in Valencia.

The Aquarius took on the migrants from human traffickers’ boats in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday. Italy and Malta refused to let the ship dock.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte thanked Spain Monday for responding to Italy’s appeal for a fellow European Union country to receive the asylum-seekers.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat posted a thank-you tweet that also blamed Italy for the ship’s prolonged journey. He says Malta would send fresh supplies to the Aquarius.

Italy’s new right-wing interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has vowed to close Italian ports to rescue ships following the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants in recent years.

Calling the dispute over where the Aquarius should dock a “European issue,” Muscat called for talks to “prevent this from happening again.”


2:40 p.m.

Spain’s new prime minister has ordered authorities to allow a rescue ship carrying 629 migrants to dock in the eastern port of Valencia after the boat was refused by Italy and Malta.

A statement sent Monday by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s office says “it is our duty to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a secure port for these people.”

Amid the political dispute, The Aquarius, a rescue ship belonging to the SOS Mediterraneee charity, has been stuck in the Mediterranean Sea with its passengers, including 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women. Medical workers say food onboard the ship is going to run out Monday night.

The government statement said Spain wanted to comply with its international responsibilities on humanitarian crises.


2:20 p.m.

The mayors of Barcelona and Valencia in Spain are offering their ports to receive a charity-run rescue ship with 629 migrants on board that has been refused permission to dock by Italy and Malta.

Medical workers on the ship, which has unaccompanied minors and pregnant women on board, say it will run out of food by the end of Monday.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau has offered her city’s help while criticizing other Europeans, saying the crisis over the Aquarius “puts in question” the unity of the European Union.

She says “the duty of a democratic government is not to look away” in a humanitarian crisis.

Colau has also called on the new Spanish government, now led by the Socialist party, to change migration policies set by the previous conservative administration.


2:10 p.m.

Medical workers aboard a migrant rescue ship stranded at sea by Italy’s new populist government say food on the boat will run out by day’s end.

Marco Bertotto of Doctors Without Borders also told Italian state TV on Monday that some of the 629 migrants aboard the Aquarius have water in lungs after falling into the Mediterranean Sea from smugglers’ boats.

Others have burns from boat fuel mixed with seawater or are suffering from hypothermia.

The aid group SOS Mediterranee’s ship plucked 229 migrants from the sea or from flimsy dinghies in the Mediterranean on Saturday. The ship also took aboard 400 others who rescued elsewhere by the Italian navy and coast guard or by cargo ships.

Italy’s new interior minister, whose League party is virulently anti-migrant, won’t let the ship dock in Italy. Malta has refused to let the boat dock as well, despite calls from the European Union and the U.N. refugee agency to do so.


1:55 p.m.

The U.N. refugee agency says a standoff between Italy and Malta over a rescue ship carrying hundreds of migrants is prompting an “urgent humanitarian imperative.” The agency is demanding that some country — any country — let the ship dock.

Vincent Cochetel, who heads central Mediterranean operations for UNHCR, says the dispute over the Aquarius rescue ship carrying 629 people on board should not put in doubt the international principle of sea rescues.

Cochetel noted Monday that those on board are running out of provisions and insisted that issues of responsibility “should be looked at later.”

No country so far has allowed the humanitarian boat, currently circulating between Malta and Italy, to dock.

Cochetel also urged other governments to support countries like Italy and Malta who are taking in thousands of sea rescues.


1:30 p.m.

The German government is calling on all involved with the fate of a migrant rescue ship in the Mediterranean Sea to “do justice to their humanitarian responsibility.”

Italy and Malta were both refusing Monday to let the ship with 629 people aboard dock, leaving the migrants at sea as a diplomatic standoff escalated under Italy’s new anti-immigrant populist government.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told reporters in Berlin on Monday: “We are concerned about the situation on this ship, the Aquarius, and the German government calls on all involved to do justice to their humanitarian responsibility.”

However, he added that Germany believes “particularly burdened countries, and Italy is of course one of them, must not be left alone” in dealing with Europe’s migrant influx.


1:05 p.m.

The European Union is appealing to Italy and Malta to quickly work out — for humanitarian reasons — where a ship carrying more than 600 rescued migrants should dock.

European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said Monday that “the priority of both the Italian and Maltese authorities should be ensuring these people receive the care they need.”

He said: “We call on all involved to contribute to a swift resolution so that the people on board the Aquarius vessel may be safely disembarked as soon as possible.”

The Commission says the legal circumstances dictating who should accept the migrants is “anything but clear,” however Brussels says both parties are obliged to cooperate to resolve the matter.


9 a.m.

Malta is accusing Italy of violating international norms by instructing a migrant rescue ship with 629 people aboard to stay at sea while a diplomatic standoff plays out over where it can dock.

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

In a statement late Sunday after speaking with his Italian counterpart, Muscat refused to let the ship dock in a Maltese port, but said Malta will conduct emergency medical evacuations if necessary.

The standoff marked the first display of Italy’s get-tough immigration policy under the right-wing, xenophobic League. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini tweeted Sunday that from now on, “Italy, too, begins to say NO to the trafficking of human beings.”