Spain hailed for ending migrant ship stand-off

Migrants remain at sea as Italy-Malta standoff intensifies

Spain has accepted a rescue ship carrying 629 migrants which had been turned away by the new Italian government, avoiding a humanitarian crisis and diffusing a political stand-off between two European Union countries.

Among those packed onto the Aquarius were 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and seven pregnant women.

The rescue ship Aquarius has been stuck since Saturday in worldwide waters off the coast of Italy and Malta, both of which have refused it entry.

Spain's prime minister, Socialist party leader Pedro Sanchez, offered to resolve the impasse by allowing the Aquarius access to the port of Valencia on Monday.

Authorities on the French island of Corsica also offered to host the migrants, the morning after SOS Mediterranee raised fears that the Aquarius would not be able to reach Spain safely due to deteriorating weather conditions.

SOS Mediterranee said an approaching storm would bring with it waves of over 2 metres (6.5 ft) making any trip to Spain highly uncomfortable.

Doctors Without Borders said the Aquarius rescued 229 people over the weekend before taking on an additional 400 people who were rescued by Italian coast guards, Italian navy and merchant vessels in overall six separate operations.

Echoing similar calls by the United Nations and the bloc's biggest member state Germany, Schinas added: "For the commission there is first and foremost a humanitarian imperative, we are talking about people".

The incident was first reported by German migrant aid group Sea-Watch, which said 41 people were rescued and 12 bodies recovered during the operation.

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The European Commission had urged member states to act with responsibility, calling on both Italy and Malta to respond.

The NGO was blocked from docking by Italy's new anti-immigrant interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who argued that people plucked from the Mediterranean should not all end up on his country's shores.

"We don't yet have any information about the departure time", the charity's Marseille-based spokeswoman Laura Garel told Agence France-Presse, adding that the journey from Maltese waters to Valencia would take at least three days.

Italy's new anti-migrant, right-wing interior minister has made good on a campaign pledge to close Italian ports to non-governmental organizations that pick up migrants at sea, which he has likened to taxi services for migrant smugglers.

Valencia is nearly three days' voyage for the Aquarius, while Italy and Malta are just hours away.

Both Mr Muscat and new Italian premier Giuseppe Conte readily thanked Spain for the offer, with Mr Conte saying "it goes in the direction of solidarity".

Maltese premier Joseph Muscat accused Italy of violating worldwide norms governing sea rescues and said its stance risked "creating a risky situation for all those involved".

More than 600 migrants, including over 120 teenagers and children, had to be rescued from inflatable boats off the coast of Libya in Africa.

Italy says its decision to shut its ports to hundred of migrants aboard a charity ship is firm, as a clash between Rome and Paris over migrant policy heats up.

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