Malta says deal reached with Italy to take migrants from rescue boat

Malta and Italy reportedly reached a deal on Friday to begin to tackle the standoff between charity rescue ships in the Mediterranean Sea and Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.

The two countries are said to have agreed to each take refugees from a sailboat belonging to Italian NGO Mediterranea that rescued 54 people at sea.

Under the arrangement, Malta would send a coast guard vessel to pick up migrants on the Mediterranea and bring them to the country’s capital, Valetta.

In return, Italy would take another 54 migrants from Malta as “part of an initiative that promotes a European spirit of cooperation and goodwill between Malta and Italy,” the Maltese government said.

Pregnant women and children were among the people on the sailboat, which was barred by Salvini from disembarking in his country’s ports. Italian authorities evacuated only 13 “vulnerable” migrants from the vessel and took them to Lampedusa.

By Friday night, Mediterranea reported that neither Malta nor Italy had sent vessels to pick up the remaining 41 migrants from its sailboat, Alex.

Mediterranea’s Alessandra Sciurba said that while Italy had taken families and pregnant women from the vessel, “all non-accompanied minors [remained] on board, including an 11-year-old.”

The NGO posted photos showing the migrants cramped on the narrow deck of the 18-meter (59-foot) sailboat, seeking shelter from the sun under survival blankets.

“In these conditions, it is impossible to face 15 hours of sailing. We are waiting for Italian or Maltese naval arrangements to take these people on board,” Sciurba said on Twitter, in response to Salvini’s request that the Alex head to Malta on its own.