The Latest: US Navy confirms Mediterranean rescue operation
CATANIA, Sicily (AP) — The Latest on Europe’s response to mass immigration (all times local):
The U.S. Navy has confirmed that one of its ships was involved in a rescue operation in the Mediterranean.
The U.S. Sixth Fleet, which is based in Naples, Italy, said in a brief statement to The Associated Press that the USNS Trenton on Tuesday “rendered assistance to mariners in distress that it encountered while conducting routine operations in the Mediterranean Sea.”
It said 40 people were rescued and are being given food, water and medical care on board the ship. The Navy statement didn’t say where the survivors would be taken but that “U.S. authorities are coordinating with our international partners to determine their ultimate disposition.”
The incident was first reported by German migrant aid group Sea-Watch, which said 41 people were rescued and 12 bodies recovered during the operation.
A senior official in Valencia says the Spanish port city expects three ships carrying 629 migrants rescued at sea to arrive by the end of the week.
Monica Oltra, the Valencia regional government’s vice president said Tuesday that the ships all fit in the city’s marina, where the migrants will be met by emergency workers, including health officials and psychologists.
Spain offered safe haven to migrants aboard the Aquarius rescue ship after Italy and Malta refused to take them in.
Oltra says the migrants include 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children and as many as seven pregnant women. They are being transferred to ships operated by the Italian navy and coast guard, which are to accompany the aid ship to Valencia.
Oltra said officials expected some of the migrants to have gone through months of physical and emotional difficulties before reaching Spain.
Albanian police say they have in the past two days seized 29 Syrians and nine Pakistanis illegally entering the country in a bid to reach Western European countries.
A statement Tuesday said the refugees entered the country from southern Greece and handed themselves to authorities, requesting asylum while trying to flee to Montenegro.
Police also seized in the northern district of Shkodra 36 refugees trying to cross into Montenegro, all fleeing the shelter where authorities had placed them.
Earlier this year Tirana signed an agreement with the European Union to get assistance in border management.
The Interior Ministry has declined to comment on a recent increase in the number of refugees’ numbers entering the country from neighboring Greece.
Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo says her country agreed to take in hundreds of migrants from a rescue ship stuck in the Mediterranean because it was impossible to just stand by and do nothing.
Calvo said Tuesday that Spain is meeting its international obligations by helping to rescue people at sea and sending a message that it is not possible to “remain impassive” during a humanitarian crisis.
The Aquarius rescue ship, operated by an aid group and carrying 629 migrants, has been looking for somewhere to dock since Saturday amid a row in Europe over who should take them in.
The issue has quickly turned into a banner policy for Spain’s new center-left Socialist government, which took office last week.
Spanish Red Cross emergency response teams are preparing to provide medical assistance and other help for the migrants when they arrive in Valencia, a port city about 350 kilometers (200 miles) southeast of Madrid on the Mediterranean coast.
A Spanish aid group dedicated to saving migrants crossing the Mediterranean says soccer coach Pep Guardiola donated 150,000 euros ($176,000) to repair one of their ships that had been impounded by Italy.
Proactiva Open Arms founder Oscar Camps has told Catalan radio RAC1 that the Manchester City coach made the donation.
The group’s boat was impounded in Sicily by Italian authorities after the group refused to hand over 218 migrants to the Libyan coast guard, which would have taken them back to African shores.
A judge ordered the boat to be released almost a month later. Italian prosecutors, however, are still investigating whether its crew should face charges of criminal association and aiding illegal immigration.
The group says it has always acted in line with international law.
Italy’s government says in a statement that it has not abandoned the nearly 700 migrants onboard the rescue ship Aquarius, saying the vessel has been flanked from the beginning by two patrol boats.
Premier Giuseppe Conte’s office on Tuesday attempted to deflect criticism from France calling Italy “cynical” for not allowing the Aquarius to reach port in Sicily, close to where the ship was stuck at sea for days.
The statement said that “after Malta’s refusal to cooperate and allow the people to land, we welcomed the unprecedented gesture of solidarity that came from Spain. That same gesture has not come from France, on the other hand, which has instead adopted policies much more rigid and cynical as far as arrivals are concerned.”
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has complained about France closing its border with Italy to migrants.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her interior minister, an often-awkward conservative ally, are at odds over the latter’s calls to turn back some migrants at the border in the future.
Horst Seehofer, who became interior minister in March, called off the presentation scheduled for Tuesday of his so-called “master plan” for migration amid disagreement within Merkel’s conservative bloc.
Seehofer advocates turning back at the German border asylum-seekers previously registered in another European Union country. Merkel wants European solutions to migration issues and is wary of Germany taking such action.
The issue has revived tensions that date back to the migrant crisis of 2015-2016. Seehofer leads the Christian Social Union, the Bavaria-only sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, and was a leading critic of her welcoming stance.
A German migrant aid group says its ship is heading toward a shipwreck 20 miles (32 kilometers) off the coast of Libya in which 12 people are believed to have died.
The Sea-Watch group wrote on Twitter Tuesday that the wreck was reported “by an order of the U.S. Navy, which has rescued 41 people from the water and confirms 12 corpses.”
Sea-Watch is one of several aid groups operating rescue ships in the Mediterranean. There were no immediate details on the wreck and its passengers.
Italy’s new government this week refused to allow another charity group’s rescue vessel to dock in a bid to force Europe to share the burden of unrelenting migrant arrivals.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is calling on Italy to reconsider its position and take in 629 migrants on a private rescue ship that has been seeking a place to dock since Saturday.
Le Drian, speaking at the lower house of France’s parliament, said the aid groups Doctors Without Borders and SOS Mediterranee think it would take too long to take Spain up on its offer of the port of Valencia.
The rescue ship Aquarius has been stuck since Saturday in international waters off the coast of Italy and Malta, both of which have refused it entry.
Le Drian said the status quo regarding the management of the Mediterranean waters “isn’t sustainable.”
France argues Italy didn’t respect international maritime laws.
French President Emmanuel Macron has criticized what he called Italy’s cynicism and irresponsibility in turning away a ship stuck off the country’s shores with 629 migrants on board.
Government spokesman Benjamin Grivaux reported Macron’s comments in Tuesday’s weekly Cabinet meeting.
“If any ship was closer to France’s shores, it could obviously dock on the French coast”, Macron said according to Grivaux.
The rescue ship Aquarius has been stuck since Saturday in international waters off the coast of Italy and Malta, both of which have refused it entry. The migrants are now preparing for a trip to Spain, which has offered the ship safe harbor.
Macron welcomed Spain’s humanitarian gesture, Grivaux said.
Grivaux added that France doesn’t want to “start a precedent” that would allow some European countries to breach international laws and rely on other EU member states.
Hungary’s radically anti-migrant prime minister has praised the decision of the new Italian government to reject a rescue vessel full of migrants from docking at an Italian port.
Viktor Orban said his initial reaction to the news was a sigh of “Finally!” Orban said it had been “so depressing” to hear for years that Europe’s maritime borders cannot be defended that “one practically lost the will to live.”
Speaking Tuesday after a meeting with his Slovak counterpart, Peter Pellegrini, Orban said that Italy’s decision to turn away the Aquarius rescue vessel, with 629 migrants onboard, was a “great moment which may truly bring changes in Europe’s migration policies.”
The migrants are preparing for a trip to Spain, where the country’s new prime minister has offered them safe harbor.
The aid group Doctors Without Borders is urging Italy and Malta to reconsider their decision to refuse to let a rescue vessel carrying hundreds of migrants dock in their ports, saying the migrants are too “exhausted and stressed” for another four days at sea to go to Spain.
The 629 migrants, onboard the rescue vessel Aquarius, are preparing for a trip to Spain, whose new prime minister has offered them safe harbor after Italy and Malta refused them permission to dock in their ports.
The aid groups said Tuesday it is particularly concerned about the condition of patients who had to be resuscitated after rescue, saying they could develop “significant pulmonary issues after swallowing sea water.”
Doctors without Borders, which operates the Aquarius with SOS Mediterranee, said that to continue the sea journey to Valencia, Spain “would mean already exhausted people rescued at sea would have to endure four more days exposed to the elements on the deck, in an overcrowded boat well over maximum capacity.”
The government of Spain’s Valencia region says it is expecting ships carrying 629 migrants who were rejected by Italy and Malta to call “in three or four days” at its port.
The vice president of the regional government, Monica Oltra, was speaking to reporters on Tuesday, after Spain offered to take in the group of migrants, which includes 120 minors and seven pregnant women. The migrants were onboard the Aquarius, a rescue vessel operated by aid group SOS Mediterranee, which has been stuck in the Mediterranean Sea since Saturday.
Oltra says the timing will depend on when they depart, the weather and conditions at sea.
She said the Red Cross was preparing to provide shelter and medical assistance to the migrants on arrival, and that other Spanish regions and cities had offered to provide longer term support.
The new Spanish foreign minister has said that by taking in the migrants aboard a rescue ship refused by Italy and Malta, Spain is looking to push European Union leaders to address the bloc’s migration policies later this month.
“Spain has made a gesture that aims to trigger a European dynamic to stop looking away, allowing one (EU member) to cope with the problem while the rest of us pass the buck,” Borrell told Ser radio late on Monday.
He said the decision to offer a docking port in the eastern city of Valencia had been a personal and direct move by the country’s new prime minister, the Socialist Pedro Sanchez.
Borrell also said that the issue will be taken by Spain to the council of EU heads of state or government on June 28-29.
Aid group SOS Mediterranee Sea says it is transferring some of the 629 migrants rescued at sea to Italian ships to continue to the journey to Spain where the prime minister has offered safe harbor.
The Aquarius, the rescue ship operated by SOS Mediterranee, has been stuck at sea 35 nautical miles off the coast of Sicily since Saturday when Italy refused permission to dock and demanded Malta do so. Malta refused.
SOS Mediterranee spokeswoman Mathilde Auvillain said Tuesday that some passengers were being transferred before the journey “for security reasons” because of deteriorating weather conditions on the voyage to Valencia, Spain. Many passengers had been on decks and are being moved to ships of the Italian Navy and Coast Guard.
This version corrects that Sanchez is Spain’s new prime minister, not president.