Italy will refuse to let a humanitarian boat carrying more than 600 migrants dock at any of its ports and has asked the island of Malta to open its doors to the vessel, an official said Sunday.
For its part, Malta said it had nothing to do with the rescue operation, opening the prospect of a diplomatic standoff between the two European Union allies.
The Aquarius is operated by the charity SOS Mediterranee, which said on Twitter earlier Sunday that it had taken on board 629 migrants, including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and seven pregnant women.
The move by Italy's new Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, also head of the far-right League, is part of efforts to make good on his electoral promises to halt the flow of migrants into the country.
More than 600,000 migrants have reached Italy by boat from Africa in the past five years.
Numbers have dropped dramatically in recent months, but there has been a rise in rescues in recent days, presenting Salvini with his first test as minister.
SOS Mediterranee said the group of mainly sub-Saharan Africans were picked up in six different rescue operations off the coast of Libya and included hundreds who were plucked from the sea by Italian naval units and then transferred to the Aquarius.
Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team