Spain offers to take in stranded migrant ship


ROME: Spain offered Monday to take in a ship stranded in the Mediterranean with 629 migrants aboard after Italy and Malta refused to let the vessel dock in their ports.
The migrants, including pregnant women and scores of children, were saved by the French charity SOS Mediterranee on Saturday.
They were taken on board its ship Aquarius, which is now between Malta and Sicily.
But Malta and Italy — whose new populist government has vowed a tough new stance on immigration — have both refused to take the migrants in, triggering concern in the international community about their plight.
Spain’s new Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez agreed to allow the ship to dock in its eastern port of Valencia.
“The prime minister has given instructions for Spain to honour international commitments on humanitarian crises and announced that the country will receive the ship Aquarius,” his office said in a statement.
“It is our obligation to help to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and to offer a safe port to these people.”
The UN had called on Malta and Italy to immediately allow the boat to dock, describing the situation as “an urgent humanitarian imperative”.
It suggested that the hundreds on board “are running out of provisions.”
The EU and the bloc’s biggest member state Germany made similar pleas.
“The priority of both the Italian and Maltese authorities should be ensuring these people receive the care they need,” European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters, calling for a “swift resolution”.
Italy’s refusal to take in the migrants is the first sign of the new government’s hardened stance on immigration.
Its far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini showed no sign of backing down on Monday.
“Saving lives is a duty, turning Italy into a huge refugee camp is not. Italy is done bending over backwards and obeying, this time THERE IS SOMEONE WHO SAYS NO,” he wrote on Twitter followed by the hashtag #closethedoors.
The Maltese government insisted it was “acting in full conformity with its international obligations”.
SOS Mediterranee tweeted late Sunday that the Aquarius had received instructions from the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre to stand by in its current position 35 nautical miles from Italy and 27 nautical miles from Malta.