French rescue vessel Aquarius stranded again, seeks port

Geneva Stokes
August 16, 2018

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

However this time a Spanish government source told AFP that, as Spain is not the nearest port, "it is not the safest port" for the migrant ship to dock.

Matteo Salvini, the country's far-right populist interior minister, also wrote: "It can go anywhere it wants, NOT in Italy".

The vessel is carrying 141 migrants aboard, and questions about its destination have been raised in the worldwide media, after Italy and Malta denied it entry.

Meanwhile, Italy's Transport minister Danilo Toninelli suggested the ship make its way to Gibraltar, since it was flying the British territory's flag.

A European Commission spokeswoman said there "could be a case for a flag state to be responsible" for the ship but cautioned that it "may not be practically feasible".

Malta said on Saturday it would not welcome the ship while Spain said its ports were not the safest destination for the vessel.

More than 650,000 migrants have come to Italy's shores since 2014, but the numbers of new arrivals have plunged over the past year, with Rome encouraging the Libyan coastguard to carry out most of the rescues.

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SOS Mediterranee said that "in a disturbing development, rescued people on board told our teams they encountered five different ships which did not offer them assistance before they were rescued by Aquarius".

Image: Italy and Malta have stopped the Aquarius docking.

Medecins Sans Frontieres, the joint operator of the boat with another French humanitarian group, said it rescued 25 people Friday from a small wooden craft and later that day took 116 people off another wooden boat, including 67 unaccompanied minors.

Spokesman Ayoub Gassim says the migrants, including 19 women and four children, were rescued after their rubber boat ran into trouble Sunday off the coast of the western town of Zawiya.

Though departures from Libya have fallen dramatically this year, people smugglers are still pushing some boats out to sea and an estimated 720 people died in June and July when charity ships were mainly absent, Amnesty International estimates.

More than 650,000 migrants have come to Italy's shores since 2014, and Rome has accused its European Union peers of not sharing the burden of taking in those who arrive on the bloc's southern border.

The criminalisation and obstruction of humanitarian organisations reflects the larger problem of a broken European asylum system and the failure of the EU member states to relocate asylum seekers who arrive in Europe.

"We are now following the instructions of the JRCC and will duly contact other rescue coordination centres for a place of safety to disembark the rescued people we have on board", said Nick Romaniuk, Search and Rescue Coordinator for SOS MEDITERRANEE.

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