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Italy allows docking of ship with migrants, ends standoff with Malta

ROME (Reuters) - Italy will let its coast guard ship carrying 177 migrants it rescued on the high seas five days ago dock in Sicily, Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said on Monday, ending a standoff with Malta over where it should disembark.

FILE PHOTO: Italy's Minister of Infrastructure and Transport Danilo Toninelli arrives for gala dinner at the Quirinal palace in Rome, Italy, June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo

The European Commission also said it was working on a solution to share out of the migrants aboard the Diciotti with Italy’s EU partners after a request from Italy’s foreign ministry the previous day.

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

Since taking office in June, Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and Toninelli have toughened the stance on allowing ships to dock in the country’s ports at a time of rising anti-immigration sentiment in Italy.

The Diciotti picked up 190 migrants on Wednesday from an overcrowded boat.

The coast guard quickly evacuated 13 of them to Italy for emergency medical treatment, but instead of bringing the rest to shore, the Diciotti stayed in international waters while Rome insisted that Malta should take them since the migrant boat had first passed through its search-and-rescue area.

But Malta said the migrants had refused its aid because they wanted to reach Italy. On Sunday, Toninelli said the small island nation should be sanctioned for not performing the rescue.

After more than 650,000 arrivals on Italian shores since 2014, Salvini has repeatedly said the country “will no longer be Europe’s refugee camp”, calling on EU partners to share the burden of the arrivals.

Flows across the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy - one of the main routes to Europe - have tapered off as Libyan factions cracked down on people smugglers, and as the EU bolstered its support for the Libyan coast guard.

But people are still dying at sea and summer is peak season for migrants attempting the crossing, often in overcrowded, unseaworthy boats.

Brussels said it was in talks with European Union states on who will take the Diciotti people in but declined comment on which capitals or when could offer help.

Reporting by Steve Scherer, Editing by Andrei Khalip