Italy prepares to ship migrants to Spain, drawing criticism from humanitarian groups

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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".

Many were transferred from the overcrowded Aquarius, operated by aid group SOS Méditerranée, to an Italian navy warship and a coastguard vessel.

Both Italy and fellow European Union member Malta have refused to accept the migrants who are now heading for the Spanish port of Valencia after the new socialist government in Madrid agreed to take them in.

The ship said it had been ordered by Italy's coast guard coordination center late Sunday to remain 35 miles off Italy and 27 miles from Malta.

"This morning we will send ships and boats to take them to Spain", Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli told Radio Capital, adding that Italy had already sent fresh provisions to the Aquarius ahead of the voyage which could take three days.

"Little changes if the boat is called Aquarius or Sea-Watch 3", Salvini, the interior minister, said.

Spain unexpectedly offered on Monday to take in the Gibraltar-flagged ship, recognising that several of those on board, whom were picked up off the Libyan coast over the weekend, were in need of medical assistance.

The offer was a direct move by Spain's newly-elected Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez.

"The rescues will continue and it is crucial that European countries talk amongst themselves to find acceptable solutions" to bring to shore migrants stranded in the Mediterranean, she said.

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In a statement issued Monday, the International Chamber of Shipping warned that refusing port access to vessels like the Aquarius could have "serious implications for the safety and welfare of these distressed people, including children and pregnant women".

The two nearest countries, Italy and Malta, refused to let the ship dock at any of their ports.

The Valencia option was satisfactory for Italy, whose new populist government has taken a hard stand against immigration.

The government was responding to French President Emmanuel Macron accusation of "irresponsibility" over Italy's handling of the crisis.

In the meantime, some in Italy have offered to take in the migrants, with the mayor of Taranto, Rinaldo Melucci, saying that the southern port city was "ready to embrace every life in danger".

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, so far in 2018, 35,090 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Europe, with more than 11,300 landing in Spain and 14,200 in Italy.

The standoff marked the first inevitable clash over migrant rescues with League leader Salvini, now running Italy's interior ministry.

"The people we saved yesterday were in a hard condition, at least 50 were at risk of drowning".

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.

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