US Navy rescues migrants at sea off the coast of Libya

Migrants remain at sea as Italy-Malta standoff intensifies

Migrants are rescued in the Mediterranean sea on June 9, 2018 in a picture released on June 11, 2018 by SOS Mediterranee, before boarding the French NGO's ship Aquarius. But he quoted Macron as telling Tuesday's weekly Cabinet meeting: "If any ship was closer to France's shores, it could obviously dock on the French coast".

The U.N. refugee agency said Monday that there was "an urgent humanitarian imperative" to act, calling on governments to accept the distressed migrants now and resolve "broader issues" later.

The decision to offer a docking port in the eastern city of Valencia had been a personal and direct move by the country's new prime minister, the Socialist Pedro Sanchez.

The standoff over the fate of the Aquarius, turned away by both Italy and nearby Malta but welcomed by Spain, has raised political tensions in Europe as the new Italian government wants neighbors to share more of the burden of migrant arrivals.

Italy's hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini, in a joint statement with Danilo Toninelli, minister in charge of the Italian coastguard, insisted that Malta "cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise worldwide conventions on the protection of human life".

Salvini's nationalist Lega party has promised to expel the 600,000 undocumented immigrants who have arrived in Italy since 2014, mostly from Africa, but he was only able to close the country's ports with the support of his coalition partners in the populist Five Star Movement, which leads Italy's new coalition government.

After two years at sea in which it has saved almost 30,000 migrants, the Aquarius rescue ship is charting a course for a head-on collision with European governments.

Even as Italy dispatched the charity ship, an Italian coast guard vessel with 937 migrants aboard was heading north from the Libyan coast and was expected to dock in Sicily on Wednesday.

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"Italy can not accept hypocritical lessons from countries that have preferred to look the other way on immigration", the new populist government said in statement initially reported by Italian media and then confirmed by government representatives to AFP.

"Starting today Italy will begin to say NO to human trafficking, NO to the business of illegal immigration", Salvini wrote in a Facebook post.

"Supplies will be received shortly from an Italian vessel on to Aquarius".

"Particularly seven pregnant woman, 15 with serious chemical burns and several critical drowning hypothermia patients", MSF Sea said. It came just after a fatal day in the Mediterranean, with at least 112 people estimated drowned when a boat that departed from the Tunisian coast sank at sea, and nine people, including six children, died in the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece.

UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic says rescue at sea is a long tradition, upheld by International Maritime Conventions. His tweet concluded with the hashtag #chiudiamoiporti - which means "we're closing the ports" in Italian.

With a capacity of 500 - though it has frequently crammed more onto its decks when plucking migrants from flimsy boats - the Aquarius is the biggest ship carrying out such operations in the Mediterranean.

"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 (of migration) in solitude", the ministers said.

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