Why Italy has closed its ports to a migrant rescue ship

A body bag is removed from the Italian Coast Guard vessel 'Diciotti' following a rescue operation of migrants and refugees

Passengers include 11 children and seven pregnant women, as well as 123 unaccompanied minors.

The government of Malta expressed concern that Italy is going against global rules in the way it is tackling the issue regarding stranded migrants.

"As such Malta will not take the said vessel in its ports", their statement continued.

Muscat said he told Conte "that Malta is acting in full conformity with its worldwide obligations". That stance "confirms the latest unwillingness of Malta and, thus, of Europe, to intervene and take care of the emergency".

The decision ultimately rests with Salvini's government because a ship typically can not dock without the presence of the Italian coastguard, which is controlled by Rome.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League party, said Malta should take in the ship, the Aquarius, but his request was rejected.

"From today, Italy will also start to say no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration".

Matteo Salvini sent a letter to the Maltese authorities saying he would "be forced to close Italy's ports" if the 629 migrants saved by the French charity SOS Mediterranee weren't allowed to land at Malta's capital Valletta.

Salvini and Italian Transportation Minister Danilo Toninelli, who is part of the 5-Star Movement faction in the new government, said in a joint statement Sunday that it was Malta's responsibility to "open its ports for the hundreds of the rescued on the NGO ship Aquarius".

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"The island can't continue to turn the other way", the ministers said. "The Mediterranean is the sea of all the countries that face it, and it (Malta) can't imagine that Italy will continue to face this giant phenomenon in solitude". "RCC Malta in this case is neither the competent, nor the coordinating authority". The Rome-based rescue coordination centre gave the instructions.

"Our objective is the disembarkation in a port of safety of the 629 people now on board the Aquarius - some we rescued yesterday night in hard conditions", she was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The Maltese prime minister also expressed concern over the Italian authorities' directions given to the Aquarius vessel, adding that such policies contradicted worldwide norms, and might lead to risky developments.

The MV Aquarius, a search and rescue ship run in partnership between SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres, has been told by Italian authorities to stand by in its current position, 35 nautical miles from Italy and 27 nautical miles from Malta.

He has criticised humanitarian organisations for providing what he has called a "taxi service" for migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya. Some 400 of the migrants were rescued by the Italian Navy, the Italian coastguard and merchant vessels before being transferred to the Aquarius.

Italy's new interior minister has refused to let 600 migrants disembark in Italy, leaving rescue ship in limbo in Mediterranean.

One boat found Sunday was carrying four bodies along with 49 migrants. The lawlessness in Libya has made it a popular place for migrants to try to depart for Europe.

The United Nations estimates that at least 500 people have died in 2018 trying to cross the central Mediterranean, following some 2853 fatalities previous year.

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