Italy demands Britain takes in 141 migrants on Gibraltan rescue boat

French rescue vessel Aquarius stranded again seeks port

Malta has always insisted that it stood by the global convention, which stipulated that people should be disembarked at the closest, safest port.

"Stop human traffickers and their accomplices", he wrote.

Since it took office on June 1, Italy's new populist government has closed its ports to migrant rescue non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and called for all migrants caught at sea to be sent back to Libya or other European Union nations.

Members of SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders perform a rescue drill near the Aquarius rescue vessel at open sea between Lampedusa and Tunisia.

Italian transport minister Danilo Toninelli claimed the United Kingdom is responsible for the migrants on board as the rescue ship that picked them up is sailing under the flag of the British territory.

"People rescued in the worldwide waters of the Mediterranean must not be returned to Libya, but should be taken to a place of safety in line with global and maritime law", MSF said in a statement, saying that numerous migrants had suffered abuse during their transit through Libya.

The Gibraltar government said in a statement the ship could no longer fly a Gibraltar flag from August 20 and should revert back to the "underlying owners' flag", which is Germany.

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Meanwhile, the Aquarius should be allowed to disembark "safely and promptly" at an Italian port. While Britain could theoretically be considered as a destination port, it was not practical to bring the ship there.

"What is of utmost importance is that the survivors are brought to a place of safety without delay, where their basic needs can be met and where they can be protected from abuse", said Nick Romaniuk, search and rescue coordinator for SOS Mediterranee.

In June, Aquarius was forced to sail to Spain with more than 600 rescued migrants after Italy and Malta refused it permission to dock.

Over 100 migrants onboard a rubber dinghy were spotted during a routine border patrol and rescued by an AFM patrol vessel. "The requests for such vessel to enter ports are unwarranted and without legal standing", the government said, adding that it was monitoring the situation and staying in touch with other authorities.

The Aquarius, one of the last two NGO vessels still operating in the central Mediterranean. was the first charity ship to be turned away from Italian ports in early June, before being taken in by Spain.

An estimated 720 people died in June and July when charity ships were mainly absent, Amnesty International estimates.

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