Italy's Salvini Blocks Migrant Rescue Ship Again as Spain Balks

(Bloomberg) -- Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini told a humanitarian ship carrying 141 migrants rescued Friday off the coast of Libya that “it can go anywhere, but not Italy,” setting up another clash with other European states about who should take the boat.

“German ownership, rented by a French NGO, foreign crew, in Maltese waters, carrying the Gibraltar flag,” Salvini said in a post on Twitter Monday. “Stop human traffickers and their accomplices.”

Salvini’s refusal to accept the same boat, the Aquarius, in June when it was carrying 629 migrants set up a clash with other European nations about how to handle the 300,000 migrants who have landed on Italian shores since the start of 2016. Spain agreed to let the Aquarius dock in June, but a Spanish official said Monday that Spanish ports aren’t the safest option now because others are closer. Malta also refused to offer the boat a safe harbor.

French President Emmanuel Macron was the most outspoken critic of Italy during the June stand-off but has never allowed migrant ships to dock at its ports. The French government hasn’t made any comments this time around.

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. It said more than 70 percent are from Somalia and Eritrea, whose citizens are often eligible for refugee status.

MSF said Aquarius informed Italian, Maltese, Tunisian, Libyan maritime authorities of its activities.

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

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