Stranded migrants arrive in Malta after standoff

39;Sea-Eye' docked in Malta in December

On Wednesday, in Spain, police there said they broke up a gang that smuggled people and drugs by boat from Morocco into Spain, charging migrants up to 2,000 euros ($2,300) a trip.

The migrants arrived in Malta on Wednesday afternoon after being transferred from the Sea-Watch 3 and Dutch-flagged Albrecht Penck ships to Maltese coastguard vessels.

Mr Muscat also said that a decision on the fate of 249 rescued migrants already in Malta has also been agreed.

Muscat, who has previously complained that his country has to bear an unfair share of migrant numbers, insisted Malta had "never closed its ports and it is still a safe port".

He said that of the total of 298 migrants, 176 would be sent to Germany, France, Portugal, Ireland, Romania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Italy.

The situation on board both ships was said in recent days to be deteriorating, with food and water running short.

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While Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has been involved in efforts to broker an agreement and Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio had called for Italy to take in all women and children on board, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini - who is also a deputy prime minister - repeated his assertion that no migrants would be allowed to land, accusing the European Union of "giving in to the blackmail of people smugglers and NGOs" and saying he had not been consulted about the deal.

The migrants had been picked up off the coast of Libya and were not in Maltese territorial waters, he pointed out. "It is in our nature to assist those in distress but as prime minister I can not shirk responsibility of safeguarding our national security and national interest".

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said five unaccompanied child migrants would be taken in from Malta as a gesture of solidarity and humanitarian assistance.

But Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has demanded a "clarification" since the agreement was announced.

The Netherlands is one of eight countries which will take in some of the 32 migrants who have been living on a boat since they were rescued from off the coast of Libya almost three weeks ago.

"I am and I will remain absolutely against new [migrant] arrivals in Italy", he said on Twitter. "Giving in to the pressures and threats of Europe and NGOs is a sign of weakness".

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