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Around the same time, Spain's new Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, said his country would welcome the Aquarius.

Speaking to the press in Milan, the deputy PM said: "Evidently raising one's voice politely pays off, something the Italian Government hadn't done in years". The ship, carrying more than 600 people, has been unable to dock.

The standoff is actually the third in recent weeks, after the outgoing government of Premier Paolo Gentiloni refused to let humanitarian aid groups dock in Italian ports until the ships' flag nations had formally requested permission. More than 1.8 million have entered Europe since 2014.

Amid the political dispute, The Aquarius, a rescue ship belonging to the SOS Mediterraneee charity, has been stuck in the Mediterranean Sea with its passengers, including 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women.

"Regarding disembarkation, states are obliged to cooperate to find a safe place to disembark migrants rescued in their search and rescue area", IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle told AFP, citing legal experts.

Valencia is nearly three days' voyage for the Aquarius, while Italy and Malta are just hours away.

"Matteo Salvini, interior minister and leader of the anti-immigrant party the league, posted [on Twitter] under the hashtag "ports closed" 'Italy too says no to human trafficking'. This is a European issue", he said on Twitter.

While thanking Spain for their offer of help, the Maltese Prime minister said Italy had broken global rules and that there was a need to sit down with European partners to avoid an incident like this from happening again.

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The mayor of Taranto, Rinaldo Melucci said the southern port city was "ready to embrace every life in danger".

Malta has ignored calls from Italy's hardline interior minister to not "look the other way".

"People are in distress, are running out of provisions and need help quickly", said Vincent Cochetel, special envoy for the central Mediterranean for the UN Refugee Agency. Picture taken June 10, 2018.

Pictures from aboard the Aquarius, which is operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders, showed hundreds of Africans huddled aboard, including a young girl wrapped in a blanket in the arms of a rescue worker.

Satisfied with Spain's offer, Salvini later told reporters the standoff with Malta was "an important first signal" that Italy would no longer tolerate being left alone to accept and process would-be refugees. "The island can not continue looking the other way when it comes to respecting global conventions", read the Italian government's statement signed by Salvini and Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli.

The European Union has called for action to resolve the situation. "We are nonetheless prepared to take care of the rescued people until we are".

The number of migrants arriving in Spain has been on the rise, Benavides reports, while the number of sea arrivals in Italy "has dropped 77 percent compared to this time a year ago, following controversial deals with the Libyan Coast Guard and investigations into NGO search-and-rescues". In particular, Salvini was calling out Malta for being less than thirty miles away and consistently refusing to accept any of these boat people who are rescued at sea.


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