The Latest: Italy, Malta at odds over boat with 450 migrants
Jul. 13, 2018
ROME (AP) — The Latest on the migrant crisis in Europe (all times local):
Malta says a fishing boat with some 450 migrants on board was in Italian waters when it learned about the vessel so it's not up to Maltese authorities to carry out a rescue.
Italy said Friday that Malta was obliged to save the migrants from a boat launched by Libya-based human traffickers. Italy's transport minister said Malta must let the ship dock.
But the Maltese Interior Ministry the fishing boat was 53 nautical miles from Lampedusa, an island off Sicily, and 110 nautical miles from Malta when Rome's maritime rescue coordination center informed Maltese officials.
The ministry says people on the boat declared an intention to go to Lampedusa and since "the vessel was on the high seas," Malta couldn't tell them what to do.
Italy's interior minister says the boat cannot dock in Italy.
Germany says a change to the European Union military mission in the Mediterranean should only happen after talks at the European level.
Italy's populist government has launched a crackdown on migration and is seeking to renegotiate the mandate of Operation Sophia to prevent migrants rescued at sea from being brought to Italy.
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin on Friday that "if there is to be a change to the Sophia mandate then it should be discussed at the European level."
Seibert said Operation Sophia is also meant to help train the Libyan coast guard to patrol its own coastline, calling this "a very sensible mission."
He added: "It's important that as part of this mission innumerable lives have also been saved."
Italy is insisting Malta must rescue 450 migrants at sea and give them safe harbor.
Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli has tweeted that a boat with 450 persons has been navigating for hours in Malta's search-and-rescue area in the Mediterranean. He said "under the law of the sea, it's Malta which must dispatch its own boats and open up" its port.
Toninelli says Italy's coast guard can help if needed but "Malta must immediately do its duty."
Malta didn't immediately respond to Italy's appeal.
Italy's right-wing interior minister, Matteo Salvini, says his country can no longer offer safe harbor to "fake" asylum-seekers rescued at sea.
Numbers of rescued migrants have sharply declined this year, but in recent years some 600,000 migrants arrived in Italy after rescue from smugglers' unseaworthy boats. The majority were denied asylum.
Turkey's state-run news agency says that Turkish coast guard helicopters have rescued 34 migrants who were stranded on a small island in the Aegean Sea.
Anadolu Agency said the group, which included at least five children, was trapped on Bogaz Island between the Turkish coastal resort of Cesme and the Greek island of Chios on Friday.
The migrants were evacuated to a parking lot for trucks near Cesme were medical teams were on standby.
Anadolu said the coast guard was also searching for another migrant who was reported missing by the group. There was no further information on the migrants or how they got stranded.
Italian prosecutors are investigating alleged threats by migrants against a tugboat crew who rescued them in the sea off Libya.
An Italian coast guard vessel brought back 67 migrants Thursday night to Trapani, in western Sicily.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has said a Sudanese and a Ghanaian among the migrants allegedly tried to hijack the tug so it wouldn't return them to Libya, where migrants have been tortured in crowded detention centers.
Salvini had demanded the migrants not be allowed to disembark.
After President Sergio Mattarella expressed humanitarian concerns Thursday, authorities gave docking permission. Young children and women, including an injured woman, were among the migrants rescued on Sunday by the Italian tug.
The tug's captain, saying the migrants were rebelling, asked Italy's coast guard to take the migrants.