Migrant rescue ship stranded in Mediterranean after EU countries refuse entry

Migrant rescue ship stranded in Mediterranean after EU countries refuse entry
Italy and Malta, the two countries closest to the ship, have said it would not allow the rescue migrant ship to dock at its ports.
3 min read
14 August, 2018
Aquarius rescue ship outside Marseilles in August [Getty]
The Aquarius migrant rescue ship remained stranded in the Mediterranean on Tuesday, with EU countries under increased pressure to resolve the issue.

France said it was in touch with other EU members to "rapidly" find a port where the ship, which is carrying 141 migrants, could dock.

Italy and Malta, the two countries closest to its current locations, have refused entry.

This marks the second time the Aquarius, which is run jointly by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee, is left stranded at sea.

In June, the ship was turned away by Rome and Valetta while carrying 630 migrants on board before Spain's new Socialist government offered to take in the passengers. 

The Aquarius resumed rescue operations off the Libyan coast last week. 

In a statement late on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron's office voiced disapproval of Italy's "very tough political stance" - milder language than two months ago when he accused the right-wing government of "cynicism and irresponsibility".

The 141 migrants on board the Aquarius were picked up on Friday in two separate operations and are in a stable condition, SOS Mediterranee said. 

In the first rescue, 25 people were plucked from a wooden boat bobbing on the seas off the Libyan coast, while another 116 were rescued from another larger vessel later in the day.

The second boat was overloaded and more than half of the passengers were unaccompanied children, mostly from Somalia and Eritrea. They had no food or water supplies at the time of their rescue, SOS Mediterranee said.

Since June, Italy's new far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has regularly turned away rescue ships operated by foreign NGOs, accusing them of playing into the hands of people smugglers.

On Saturday, he said the Aquarius would "never see an Italian port" again, accusing it of encouraging smugglers and migrants to take to the water in the knowledge that they will be rescued.

The Italian coast guard continues to rescue migrants, however. 

Local leaders on the French island of Corsica have offered to welcome the migrants, as has the port of Sete on the mainland - but the invitations would need to be approved by the government in Paris.

France took in 78 of the migrants on board the Aquarius in June after they landed in Spain.

French public opinion was against accepting the Aquarius during the first crisis and the right-wing Republicans party and far-right National Rally both argued on Tuesday against allowing the boat to dock.

A spokesman for the National Rally suggested the ship should head for a port in Tunisia.

The increasingly hostile stance reflects hardening public opinion towards migrants in Europe following the arrival of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war or poverty in Africa and the Middle East.

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