Aquarius: What's happening to the migrants on the rescue ship?

The migrants being rescued

The migrants being rescued

Late Monday afternoon, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte called a cabinet meeting this evening to discuss the issue.

Both Italy and Malta refused to allow the Aquarius, carrying 629 migrants rescued off the coast of Libya, to dock, before Spain offered safe harbour for the refugees as humanitarian organisations warned of catastrophic consequences. All were rescued Saturday night - about 50 from the sea and the rest from Libyan coast -in guard dinghies.

SOS Mediterranee, the charity co-operating the migrant ship, said it was awaiting instructions about where to disembark from Italy's coastguard, which coordinated the sea rescues.

Following Italy's decision, Malta also said it would not accept the ship either so it remained in standby between the two countries for days.

Italian news reports say the country's new right-wing interior minister, Matteo Salvini, denied the aid ship permission to dock in Italy and wants Malta to accept it. "Italy has stopped bowing our heads and obeying", Salvini said in a Facebook post. "This time there's someone saying no".

"The boat is now heading north towards a secure port", SOS Mediterranee tweeted on Sunday without specifying its destination, though virtually every such migrant boat over the past five years has ended up in Italy.

Italy has had to deal with hundreds of thousands of migrants in recent years who passed through Libya to reach Europe.

A total 629 migrants - including pregnant women and scores of children - are now crammed on to the Aquarius ship after being rescued off the Libyan coast on Saturday and Sunday. Merchant vessels have diverted from their commercial voyages to rescue more than 50,000 people in the Mediterranean since 2015.

Italy's spat with Malta began after its reported refusal to come to the aid of another rescue ship Seefuchs, which was stranded with 126 migrants on board due to violent seas until it was allowed to dock at the Sicilian port of Pozzallo on Saturday.

"Broader issues such as who has responsibility and how these responsibilities can best be shared between states should be looked at later", United Nations special envoy Vincent Cochetel said.

The situation on board is calm in general but tension is increasing. Some of those on board are reportedly pregnant women, and 15 others have serious chemical burns.

Aloys Vimad from MSF said there was enough food and water "to give to people for two to three days".

"Our only objective is the disembarkation in a port of safety of the people that we rescued yesterday in hard conditions", it said, adding that it "took good note" of the Italian Interior Ministry's statements.

Following the Spanish offer, Salvini told reporters that his approach had been vindicated.

"The island can not continue looking the other way when it comes to respecting worldwide conventions", said the statement, which was signed by Salvini and Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, who is nominally in charge of the ports. Valencia is 700 nautical miles (about 1,300 kilometres) from point between Malta and Italy where humanitarian boat is now.

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