Italian military ships to escort ‘Aquarius’ to Spanish port of Valencia

Map showing Malta's SAR region, the migrant's rescue location, Lampedusa and Malta relative to the Aquarius path and location at 4.51pm on Sunday

The ship, with 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and 7 pregnant women aboard, is waiting in global waters between Italy and Malta.

Conte said he was due to discuss the situation further with Salvini and other Italian government ministers.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which is operating the Aquarius alongside SOS Mediterranne, urged a rethink.

Sea-Watch said it requested help from the coastguard in Malta to send boats to aid the rescue mission but Malta refused.

Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris said on Twitter that "if a minister without a heart leaves pregnant women, children, old people, human beings to die, the port of Naples is ready to welcome them".

"From the empirical evidence, the boats had been arriving whether there were or were not rescue operations in the Mediterranean or in Eastern Mediterranean or Central Mediterranean", Mahecic said.

"It's common sense. We ask that all of Europe assume responsibility for such a delicate and important issue as is immigration", he said in a TV interview. In two polls conducted in September, 46 percent of Italians said that they felt that migration made Italy less secure, and just over half said that their government had not done enough to curb immigration.

"We still don't know when we are leaving, and we still have 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) to cross with the rescued people, some of whom are in a critical condition", Beau said.

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The first group of migrants have been transferred from the humanitarian ship Aquarius - which had rescued 629 migrants crossing from Libya - to an Italian coast guard vessel, reports say.

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

"You can't create a precedent that will enable one European country to offload onto other European countries", he continued.

"Our objective is the disembarkation in a port of safety of the 629 people now on board the Aquarius - some we rescued yesterday night in hard conditions", she was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Italy's position, Muscat said, risks "creating a unsafe situation for all those involved".

Salvini and Italian Transportation Minister Danilo Toninelli, who is part of the 5-Star Movement faction in the new government, said in a joint statement Sunday that it was Malta's responsibility to "open its ports for the hundreds of the rescued on the NGO ship Aquarius".

An Italian official says the country will turn away a boat full of more than 600 migrants from its shores and direct them to Malta instead.

Earlier on Monday, Salvini warned that another rescue ship, the Sea Watch 3, registered in the Netherlands and operated by a German charity, might not be allowed to dock in Italy if it picked up migrants off Libya, where it was sailing. So many people in such a small space-with 77 meters in length, is ready to host for a couple of days or three to 550 people-poses a great risk because situation can deteriorate very quickly.

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