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article imagePanama says it will revoke flag from migrant rescue ship

By AFP     Sep 22, 2018 in World

Panama announced on Saturday it will revoke its flag from the migrant rescue ship Aquarius due to "non-respect" of "international legal procedures" relating to the rescue of migrants in the Mediterranean.

Aquarius spent 19 days docked in the French port of Marseille after Gibraltar revoked its flag last month, and the ship only set sail again days ago once the process to acquire Panamanian recognition was completed.

But Panamanian authorities issued a statement on Saturday saying "an official revocation procedure" had been launched following a complaint by Italian authorities that Aquarius's captain had "refused to return migrants and refugees back to their point of origin."

Aquarius picked up 11 migrants off the coast of Libya on Thursday but refused to take them back to the North African country and instead went in search of an alternative port.

The vessel, which has been operated by charities SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders since 2016, had asked Italy, Malta and Tunisia if they could help.

Italian authorities said on Friday it was "floating in the Mediterranean" but that it wasn't welcome to dock in Italy.

The Aquarius has been banned from Italian ports since June, when Prime Minister Matteo Salvini decided the country would take in no more migrants.

The search for safe havens has taken the ship to Spain and Malta in order to offload migrants rescued at sea, often in a precarious situation aboard vessels ill-equipped for an ocean journey.

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