EU seeks safe harbour for ship carrying 141 rescued migrants

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Malta on Tuesday said it agreed to let the Aquarius humanitarian ship dock in one of its ports and disembark 141 migrants rescued off the coast of Libya last week, ending a European standoff over who should accept the ship. The ship, he said, had a foreign crew and was now in Maltese waters, flying a Gibraltar flag. "We're asking them to be responsible and find a safe port in the Mediterranean", she said, accusing Italy and Malta of flouting worldwide maritime law. "Stop human traffickers and their accomplices".

"People rescued in the worldwide waters of the Mediterranean must not be returned to Libya, but should be taken to a place of safety in line with global and maritime law", MSF said in a statement, saying that numerous migrants had suffered abuse during their transit through Libya.

Sophie Beau, president of the vessel's French operator SOS Mediterranee, said the ship, now at sea between Malta and the Italian island of Lampedusa, had again received "official negative replies" from the two countries.

Italian transport minister Danilo Toninelli claimed the United Kingdom is responsible for the migrants on board as the rescue ship that picked them up is sailing under the flag of the British territory.

The Aquarius' search and rescue coordinator Nick Romaniuk said some migrants on board were sick and wounded and "need to be disembarked as soon as possible" for proper medical care.

A European Commission spokesperson said all diplomatic channels were being employed to find a country willing to take the migrants, .

The spokesperson added that while Britain could theoretically be considered as a destination port, it was not practically feasible to bring the ship there.

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Malta's rescue coordination centre told the Aquarius on Saturday that it would not welcome the ship, according to the charity ship's online log.

It ended up having to go to Spain with over 600 migrants it rescued transported with the help of an Italian escort.

Though departures from Libya have fallen dramatically this year, people smugglers are still pushing some boats out to sea and an estimated 720 people died in June and July when charity ships were mainly absent, Amnesty International estimates.

The humanitarian groups said the Aquarius is adrift between Italy and Malta, and awaiting instructions.

The government also pointed out that a further 114 migrants were rescued at sea and brought to Malta on Monday.

Frontex, the EU's border and coast guard, reported today that the number of people entering the European Union on the four main migratory routes has fallen by 18% over the previous year.