Migrants on stranded vessel to be taken to Spain

Migrants on board the NGO search and rescue vessel Aquarius

Italy's new hard-line interior minister prevented a rescue ship carrying 629 migrants from docking on Italian shores, leaving them stranded at sea for a day before Spain accepted them.

Doctors Without Borders, which has staff aboard the SOS Mediterranee rescue ship Aquarius, said food and water would run out by Monday night and that some of the passengers were suffering from water in their lungs as well as chemical burns caused when gasoline mixes with seawater.

Spain's Prime Minister has agreed to take in a rescue ship stranded in the Mediterranean, to help avoid a humanitarian disaster.

The issue of migration to Europe and rescues at sea has become a major issue in Italy with the new government in Rome refusing to allow an NGO ship to bring rescued migrants to Italy on Sunday.

Its route north will take it past Malta, and an official said that Salvini had written to the government of the small island state asking it to let The Aquarius dock there.

Many speculated that he had withdrawn it under pressure from his party and its allies, who have pledged to take a stand against European Union migration policies that they say leave Italy and its Mediterranean neighbours bearing the brunt of one of the biggest migration crises in a century.

Sánchez, who took office a week ago, said the ship would dock in Valencia.

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

Italy's hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini insisted that Malta "cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise global conventions on the protection of human life".

The migrants were rescued in six separate night-time operations in the central Mediterranean on Saturday.

Maltese Premier Joseph Muscat accused Italy of violating global norms governing sea rescues and said the government's stance risked "creating a unsafe situation for all those involved".

But efforts to break the stalemate between Italy and Malta are expected to continue.

"If the French have the humility to say they are sorry, we can put it behind us and be friends like before", Salvini told reporters on the sidelines of a business conference.

Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris said on Twitter that "if a minister without a heart leaves pregnant women, children, old people, human beings to die, the port of Naples is ready to welcome them".

Italy and Malta showed no sign of backing down despite the United Nations call to immediately allow the boat to dock, describing the situation as "an urgent humanitarian imperative".

More than 600,000 people have reached Italy by boat from Africa in the past five years. The ship said it had been ordered by Italy's coast guard coordination center late Sunday to remain 35 miles off Italy and 27 miles from Malta, and there it remained Monday.

In a Facebook post dated April 21 past year, M5S leader Luigi Di Maio called boats carrying stranded migrants to Italy a "sea taxi", claiming they were conducting services they said were charitable in exchange for money.

"Italy has stopped bowing our heads and obeying", Salvini said in a Facebook post.

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