"I took a call from Italy PM Giuseppe Conte to discuss the Acquarius issue. Malta is in full conformity with international obligations & will not take the vessel in its ports. We will continue, where possible, carrying out individual & humanitarian emergency medical evacuations," Muscat wrote on Twitter.
The Maltese prime minister also expressed concern over the Italian authorities’ directions given to the Aquarius vessel, adding that such policies contradicted international norms, and might lead to dangerous developments.
The rescuers say those on board the Acquarius include 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children, and seven pregnant women. Under international law, people rescued at sea should be brought to the nearest and safest port for assistance.
Maltese authorities have been insisting that since the rescue happened in the Libyan search and rescue area and was coordinated from Rome, that Valletta is neither the coordinating authority nor has the competence to settle this issue, therefore it would not take in the migrants and asylum seekers.
Since Friday, the German branch of the SOS Mediterranee NGO has been rescuing migrants and asylum seekers in the Mediterranean and taking them on board the Acquarius. The vessel, now carrying 629 people, was ordered by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center late on Sunday to remain 35 nautical miles from Italy and 27 nautical miles from Malta.