ROME -- Spain on Monday offered to take in a rescue ship carrying more than 600 migrants after Italy and Malta refused.
The U.N. refugee agency, the European Union, Germany and humanitarian groups had all demanded that Italy and Malta put their domestic politics aside and urgently consider the plight of the 629 migrants who have been left stranded in the Mediterranean Sea during the diplomatic standoff.
Italy on Monday thanked Spain's new prime minister for the offer to receive a ship from the aid group SOS Mediterranee at the port of Valencia.
But it wasn't certain whether the voyage to Spain was feasible given how far that is from the ship's current location. The ship on Monday was more than 750 nautical miles from Valencia and by late Monday said it hadn't received any instructions to head to Spain.
"It means that we need at least two more days of sailing, which is not possible today with 629 people on board," SOS Mediterranee Maritime Operations Manager Antoine Laurent said. "The situation is stable, but it cannot run" forever.
Doctors Without Borders, which has staff members aboard the ship, said the rescued migrants were stable for now but that food and water would run out by Monday night.
Late Monday, Malta sent a motorboat with food and water to resupply the migrant ship.
Despite diplomatic pressure to accept the migrants, Italy and Malta have held firm, with Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini using the high-seas to force the hand of Italy's European neighbors. Italy has long demanded that the EU change its migration policy and make good on promises to accept more migrants, saying that Italy has been left alone to coordinate rescues and accept tens of thousands of people a year for asylum processing.
"Enough!" Salvini said Monday. "Saving lives is a duty, but transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp isn't."
His co-deputy premier, Luigi Di Maio, said Monday was a turning point in Europe's divisive debate over immigration.
"From now on, Italy isn't alone, and we hope other European leaders follow" Spain's example, Di Maio said.
The migrants had been rescued from flimsy smuggling boats in the Mediterranean during a series of operations Saturday by Italian naval ships, cargo vessels and the SOS Mediterranee ship, the Aquarius. All passengers were taken to the Aquarius to be taken to land.
Italy argued that Malta should accept the Aquarius because Malta was the safest, closest port to the ship. Malta said Italy coordinated the rescues and that the tiny island nation -- which in the past few years has only accepted a few hundred migrants -- has had nothing to do with it.
Spain's new prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, then ordered authorities in Valencia to open the port, saying that "it's our duty to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a secure port for these people."
The standoff marked the first clash over migrant policy involving Salvini, who has advocated for anti-migrant policies that include a vow to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants already in Italy, even though experts doubt such mass deportations are feasible or financially viable.
Salvini pointed to Malta's unwillingness to help in accusing Europe of leaving Italy to deal with the crisis. He noted that other European countries are involved in rescue operations in the Mediterranean -- including a German aid group currently off the coast of Libya -- but that no country is stepping up to take in the migrants.
In the Mediterranean, Libya's coast guard on Sunday intercepted 180 migrants, including women and children, a day after stopping more than 150 migrants on two other boats.
The coast guard said the latest boat, whose passengers included 31 women and 12 children, was stopped off the coast of the western town of Khoms.
The migrants were taken to a naval base in Tripoli.
Information for this article was contributed by Jeffrey Schaffer, Stephen Calleja, Frances D'Emilio and staff members of The Associated Press.
A Section on 06/12/2018
Print Headline: Spain offers to take rescue ship's 629 migrants