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Aquarius rescue ship migrants head for Malta after deal reached

Update: September, 26/2018 - 13:00
A handout photo by SOS Mediterranee shows migrants resting after being rescued by the Aquarius rescue ship. — AFP/VNA Photo
Viet Nam News

VALLETTA — Fifty-eight migrants aboard the Aquarius rescue ship will be taken to Malta and from there to France, Germany, Portugal and Spain, after a deal was reached to defuse the latest row over the fate of people rescued in the Mediterranean.

The migrants will "disembark in international waters", Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted from the UN General Assembly in New York.

They will be taken to Malta and "immediately redistributed" to the four countries, a government spokesman said, amid a brewing crisis over their fate.

"The operation will take place as soon as logistically possible," the spokesman said.

The migrants were rescued off the Libyan coast by the Aquarius, a ship run by charity SOS Mediterranee.

The Aquarius passengers include 17 women and 18 minors, many of whom are exhausted and in psychological distress, the NGO said.

France will take 18 of those onboard, while Germany and Spain will each welcome 15, a French government source said.

Portugal will take 10.

A dog called Bella was also rescued with the migrants, in what the NGO said was a first.

The Aquarius – the last civilian rescue boat in the Mediterranean – had said it was heading for Marseille, "its only option" after Italy’s populist government refused access to its ports.

But the French government had signalled it was reluctant to welcome the vessel, saying it should dock at the nearest safe port to its current location near conflict-torn Libya.

Malta’s announcement came after talks with the French government, Muscat said.

The Aquarius will then head to Marseille "to rectify its stateless position", the government said, after Panama announced on Saturday it would revoke the boat’s flag registration following an Italian complaint.

A similar crisis was defused in August when five different countries took in migrants the Aquarius had picked up during the treacherous Mediterranean crossing. — AFP

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