More than 450 migrants have been rescued from the Mediterranean – sparking a row between Italy and Malta over who is responsible for them.
The migrants were spotted on an overcrowded wooden vessel near the Italian island of Linosa and more than 100 nautical miles from Malta.
A ship operated by EU border agency Frontex and a vessel owned by Italy’s tax police picked them up, but Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini refused to let them dock and ordered the boats to head south to Libya or Malta.
During talks with prime minister Giuseppe Conte, he said: “We need an act of justice, of respect and of courage to fight against these human traffickers and generate a European intervention.”
During messages, emails and phone calls on Friday, Italy’s government pushed Malta to take responsibility for the rescued migrants.
But Malta said the ship was closer to the Italian island of Lampedusa and insisted those on board only wanted to reach Italy.
Eight women and children on board the migrant ship were taken to Lampedusa for medical treatment.
The new stalemate between Italy and Malta came just hours after 67 migrants were allowed to disembark from an Italian coastguard ship in Sicily on Thursday.
Italy’s new populist government has vowed to block any further migrant arrivals by boat and has banned charity rescue ships from docking in Italian ports, with Mr Salvini claiming they aid human traffickers.
An emergency EU summit was held just weeks ago to thrash out a policy on migration but no agreement was reached.