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article imageMigrants in limbo as Italy blocks rescue ships

By Franck IOVENE (AFP)     Jun 25, 2018 in World

Confusion reigned in the Mediterranean on Monday after a chaotic weekend with the Libyan coast guard claiming to have rescued about 1,000 migrants, Italy stepping up the ante and several humanitarian and commercial ships waiting for more clarity before carrying out more operations.

Italy, on the frontline of Europe's migrant crisis, has turned away rescue vessels with its new populist government saying the onus was on Libya to take them in.

Here are some of the rescue ships in limbo:

- Lifeline -

Lifeline, a ship belonging to a German NGO of the same name, is moored about 30 nautical miles off Malta with 234 migrants who were rescued on Wednesday, including 14 women and four children younger than three.

Lifeline's co-founder Axel Steier told AFP that the Dutch registered vessel was turned away by the Italian authorities and told to go to Libya. An email sent by Lifeline to the Libyan coast guard remains unanswered, according to Steier.

Lifeline on Monday asked for permission to berth in France.

"The problem is that we have 234 people on a 30-metre-long boat near a developed country and Europe is watching these people slowly waste away," Steier said.

He later said the boat had been delayed by poor weather.

"Go towards France yes, we wanted to do that initially but due to the weather conditions, it's not possible at the moment. And we wanted to stay in international waters rather than enter a port," he said.

"It will not happen today, tomorrow or the day after, because the weather is bad, but we keeping the option open".

- Seefuchs -

The Seefuchs of the German NGO Sea-Eye is docked in the Maltese capital Valetta, where authorities are checking if the ship, which is flying the Dutch flag, is indeed registered in the Netherlands. Dutch authorities have said it does not figure in their naval registers.

Sea-Eye has said the process of verification should be complete by the end of the week.

- Open Arms -

Spanish NGO Pro Activa's vessel Open Arms is stuck in international waters off the Libyan coast. It has said that Italian authorities have rejected its appeal to help them rescue about 1,000 migrants.

- Alexander Maersk -

Italian coast guards said on Monday that a Danish container ship Alexander Maersk was near the Sicilian port of Pozzallo with 108 migrants who had been rescued on Friday.

"We are waiting for orders," a coast guard official told AFP when asked about the fate of the migrants.

The ship changed course after receiving a distress signal, Maersk Line spokesman Mikkel Elbek Linnet said. It had rescued 113 migrants but five of them -- four children and a pregnant woman -- disembarked on Saturday evening.

Denmark's Immigration Minister Inger Stjoberg has written to Italy's hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini to take steps to ensure that the migrants are not stuck in the ship.

- Aquarius -

The Aquarius, a humanitarian ship chartered by French non-governmental organisation SOS Mediterranee, is also stuck off Libyan waters after returning from the Spanish port of Valencia. On June 16, it rescued 630 migrants who were finally transported to Spain after Italy and Malta refused to take them in.

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