File picture of the Diciotti vessel with migrants onboard
File picture of the Diciotti vessel with migrants onboard

Rome had threatened to return the 177 migrants to Libya amid a standoff with Malta over who should take them. Local media reports suggested it would take some negotiations before the migrants are allowed to disembark.

Italy will allow its coast guard ship carrying 177 migrants rescued from the seas five days ago to dock in Sicily, Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said on Monday.

The Diciotti, working under the EU's Frontex Mediterranean rescue operation, had been stuck off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa amid a standoff between Italy and Malta over the fate of the migrants.

"The Diciotti ship will dock in Catania," Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said on Twitter without specifying when. "Now Europe must hurry to do its part."

Last week, Italy asked Malta to take in the migrants, arguing that they were rescued in Maltese waters. But Malta refused, saying that the migrant boat wasn't in distress and that the migrants declined help from Maltese authorities, preferring to continue toward Italy.

EU reaches out to members

The refusal prompted a sharp response from Italy's far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who threatened to send the migrants to Libya and demanded the European Union step in.

Salvini retracted his threat later. However, sources close to Salvini said he would not allow the migrants to get off the boat until there was a "certainty the 177 would go somewhere else."

The European Commission said it was working on a solution to share out the migrants aboard the Diciotti with other EU members.

Since taking office in June, Salvini has toughened Rome's stance on allowing ships to dock in Italian ports at a time of rising anti-immigration sentiment in Italy.

ap/rc (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

First published: August 20, 2018

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