September 17, 2019 / 1:54 PM / 3 months ago

Malta agrees to take 90 migrants rescued by Italian coastguard

Migrants who were rescued by the Italian coastguard arrive on an Armed Forces of Malta patrol boat in Valletta's Marsamxett Harbour, Malta September 17, 2019. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

VALLETTA (Reuters) - Malta on Tuesday agreed to accept 90 migrants rescued by an Italian coastguard vessel in its search and rescue zone, defusing a stand-off with the new Italian government.

Italy’s coastguard said earlier it had picked up the migrants from a sinking boat off Libya at the request of the Maltese rescue coordination center, but Malta had initially refused to send a vessel to transfer them to its mainland.

The Maltese Armed Forces had been surveilling the situation and the Italians got involved, an armed forces spokeswoman said, before the government changed tack some hours later and announced the migrants could dock.

Malta has repeatedly insisted that migrants should be taken to the closest safe harbor, which in this case was the Italian island of Lampedusa.

European Union interior ministers will meet in Malta next week to discuss a new migrant distribution mechanism.

Meanwhile, the Ocean Viking charity vessel, run by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders, said on Twitter it had rescued 48 migrants from a wooden boat off the Libyan coast.

Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Alex Richardson

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