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    Migrants wait to disembark from the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) ship Phoenix in the Sicilian port town of Augusta, Italy, Sunday, June 7, 2015

    Gibraltar to Strip Migrant Rescue Ship Aquarius of Registration

    © AP Photo / Carmelo Imbesi
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    Italy has demanded that Britain take in the 141 migrants currently on board a Gibraltar-flagged rescue ship amid a current diplomatic spat over which country should accommodate the North African refugees seeking asylum in Europe.

    After its registration is officially revoked on August 20, the Aquarius will revert to Germany, who is its legitimate owner.

    On August 6, the Gibraltar Maritime Administration said it would strip the migrant rescue vessel Aquarius of its Gibraltar registration, SkyNews reported.

    Gibraltar's authorities explained their decision by saying that the Aquarius had been registered as a "survey vessel" but was being used for search and rescue work.

    The news came after Italy's transport minister Danilo Toninelli demanded that Britain take in the 141 migrants the Aquarius had earlier rescued in the Mediterranean because the boat flew under the flag of Gibraltar, a British territory, and, therefore, deemed the UK responsible for the migrants.

    The Aquarius, with the rescued migrants on board, half of whom are minors and one-third are female, is currently in international waters between Italy and Malta waiting for a country to grant them a port.

    SOS Mediterranee, a French-German charity which leases and operates the Aquarius with Medicines Sans Frontiers, reacted angrily overnight to the Gibraltar government's decision.

    This latest diplomatic standoff comes less than two months after another incident involving the Aquarius when in June Italy refused the vessel a port of disembarkation.

    Spain then announced that the Aquarius could dock in Valencia, but it now is saying that the Aquarius should refrain from docking in Spanish ports as they are far away from the ship's current location current, a source in the government told Sputnik on Monday.

    Italy and Spain are the main entry points for migrants arriving in Europe.

    READ MORE: 'Aquarius Case' Turned Spain Into Magnet For Irregular Migrants — Italian MP

    The Italian government has recently been closing its ports to boats that rescue migrants use to travel by sea from Africa to Europe, resulting in an over 80 percent decrease in the number of migrants who have reached Italian shores since June.

    According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in 2018 over 60,000 migrants have arrived via the sea, while 1,524 have died or gone missing.


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