Malta stand-off over blocked migrants intensifies

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Rescue workers onboard the MV Aquarius said it will take four days to reach the port of Valencia and that the boat should be allowed access to the nearest port immediately, which now means in Italian or Maltese territory.

So Spain announced Monday that it would open the port of Valencia to the ship and the 629 migrants it carried.

Malta refused, saying it had nothing to do with the rescue mission, which was overseen by Italian coastguard.

"I have given instructions for Spain to welcome the #Aquarius ship in the Port of Valencia. Moreover, the weather conditions are adverse".

"Supplies will be received shortly from an Italian vessel onto #Aquarius". The ship has 629 migrants including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children and six pregnant women.

"We have the capacity to take them on board, but we will only do so if there is a written statement by Italian authorities that we will be able to disembark them within 36 hours", Neugebauer said.

League leader Matteo Salvini was sworn in as interior minister earlier this month and has vowed to clamp down on illegal immigration and change European Union rules.

Sanchez went on say that "It is our duty to help avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a safe harbour to these people in accordance with global law".

The diplomatic stand-off had left the migrants stranded at sea and revealed the hard negotiating tactics of Italy's new anti-immigrant government.

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Dr. David Beversluis, one of the doctors aboard the ship, said there were no medical emergencies aboard but one passenger had to be revived after he was rescued.

The number of migrants arriving in Spain has been on the rise, Benavides reports, while the number of sea arrivals in Italy "has dropped 77 percent compared to this time a year ago, following controversial deals with the Libyan Coast Guard and investigations into NGO search-and-rescues".

Spain's new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez stepped in, offering the boat safe harbor in the eastern port city of Valencia.

The migrants were picked up off the Libyan coast at the weekend and were packed onto the Aquarius which is operated by the charities SOS Mediterranee and Medecins san Frontieres.

The Italian government responded with a statement saying "Italy can not accept hypocritical lessons from countries that in the migration field have always preferred to turn their head to the other side", Italian media reported, adding that Rome is considering canceling a summit between Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Friday. The tiny island nation with fewer than a half a million inhabitants says it already accepts more refugees per capita than Italy, which has taken in more than 600,000 boat migrants since 2014.

Conte is set to head to Paris for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday ahead of a European summit on June 28-29, with a particular focus on migration, Macron's office said Monday.

Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted his gratitude to Spain, saying Italy had broken global rules and caused a standoff.

But it was not clear if the offer would be taken up given that the trip would expose the migrants to several more days at sea.

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