Left-Wing Mayors Defy Populist Government, Inviting Banned Migrant Delivery Ships to Dock

A body bag is removed from the Italian Coast Guard vessel 'Diciotti' following a rescue operation of migrants and refugees

"Our objective is the disembarkation in a port of safety of the 629 people now on board the Aquarius - some we rescued yesterday night in hard conditions", she was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The Maltese prime minister also expressed concern over the Italian authorities' directions given to the Acquarius vessel, adding that such policies contradicted global norms, and might lead to unsafe developments.

Italy has refused to let a humanitarian ship carrying more than 600 people rescued from the Mediterranean dock at its ports, saying Malta should open its port to the vessel.

Despite the claim by Mayor Orlando that the government stands in opposition to worldwide law by closing the ports to migrant smuggling operations, a distinguished expert on global maritime law Admiral Paolo Caffio has given his verdict, stating that not only is it legal, but there is also precedent, reports Il Giornale. The Aquarius, a humanitarian ship run by the NGO SOS Mediterranean and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), said it saved 946 people, including 200 unaccompanied minors rescued after being found drifting on nine wooden and rubber boats.

Tweeting on Sunday, Salvini said: "Starting today, Italy, too, begins to say NO to the trafficking of human beings, NO to the business of clandestine immigration".

Like Malta, Italy didn't appear to be budging.

"Italy has stopped bowing our heads and obeying", Salvini said in a Facebook post.

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As of Monday morning, the Aquarius was circling in worldwide waters off Malta after the Italian maritime coordination centre in Rome ordered the vessel to stay put (see map). In practical terms, no ships of this type will be able to land without cooperation of the Italian coastguard, which is under the direct command of the Italian government.

Will Malta accept the ship?

La Repubblica newspaper reported Salvini sent a letter to the Maltese authorities saying he would "be forced to close Italy's ports" if the 629 migrants saved by French NGO SOS Mediterranee weren't allowed to land at Malta's capital Valletta. The Rome-based rescue coordination centre gave the instructions.

One Aquarius crew member, Alessandro Porro, told Italian news channel Sky TG24 that they desperately needed to know which port to go to.

SOS Mediterranee said Maltese search-and-rescue authorities were contacted by their Italian counterparts "to find the best solution for the well-being and safety" of the people on the ship. Among those on board are 400 migrants rescued by the Italian navy and merchant vessels before being transferred to the Aquarius. Right-wing politicians have accused charity boats operating off the coast of Libya of operating as "taxis" for migrants.

The United Nations says at least 785 migrants have died crossing the sea so far this year.

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