Italian minister urges UK to take in 141 rescued migrants

Scores of people were picked up by a ship which sails under the flag of Gibraltar.

The SOS Mediterranee Aquarius ship (AP)
The SOS Mediterranee Aquarius ship (AP)

Italy’s transport minister has said the UK should take in 141 migrants picked up by a rescue ship that sails under the flag of the British territory of Gibraltar.

As his country continues to refuse port to ships run by humanitarian groups, Danilo Toninelli said the UK should take responsibility for the migrants aboard the Aquarius, which is operated by French humanitarian groups.

Mr Toninelli said the rescue was co-ordinated by the Libyan coast guard and that the ship is now in Maltese waters.

The French aid groups SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders have called on European nations to identify a close port of safety so the 141 migrants picked up in two rescues on Friday could disembark.

Most of the migrants are from Somalia and Eritrea and include 67 unaccompanied minors.

Doctors Without Borders said many of the people who were rescued are weak and malnourished.

The European Commission said it is in contact with a number of member states to identify a country willing to take those picked up by the ship.

The migrants are thought to have come from the coast of Libya (AP)

Spokeswoman Tove Ernst said: “It could of course be the case that in theory a flag state of a rescue ship could be considered a potential location for disembarkation, but this might not be possible in practice.”

She added: “As we have done in a number of previous cases, we stand ready to lend full diplomatic support and weight to a swift solution of the incident.”

Doctors Without Borders said European governments tend to focus their efforts on “propping up the Libyan JRCC (joint rescue co-operation centre)”, but that the two rescues on Friday underlined the unreliability of the system.

Aloys Vimard, Doctors Without Borders’ co-ordinator on board the Aquarius, said the ship happened on the two boats by chance, even though the Libyans were aware of their distress.

In addition, those rescued reported that five ships had come into their vicinity before the Aquarius and did not offer to help.

Mr Vimard added: “It seems the very principle of rendering assistance to persons in distress at sea is now at stake. Ships might be unwilling to respond to those in distress due to the high risk of being stranded and denied a place of safety.”

Press Association

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