Italy 'to shut ports' to boat carrying over 600 refugees

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Salvini said he is considering action against organisations rescuing migrants at sea.

Malta's prime minister Joseph Muscat said: "The Italian government is breaching worldwide rules and, with its attitude, is risking to create a situation that would be risky to everyone".

Italy's new interior minister threatened to bar rescue ships from docking in the country's ports after Malta refused to take hundreds of migrants, reports say.

"From today, Italy will also start to say no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration".

Like Malta, Italy didn't appear to be budging.

Italy's new interior minister, Matteo Salvini announced on Sunday that all Italian ports were closed to the rescue boat, called Aquarius.

Tweeting out the hashtag #CloseMyPorts, Salvini identified the Sea Watch 3, a Dutch-flagged vessel working for a German open-borders group, telling his followers: "Italy has stopped bending its head and obeying, this is the time where we say no".

Earlier, Malta said in a statement that the Aquarius took on the passengers in waters controlled by Libya and where Italian authorities in Rome coordinate search-and-rescue operations.

In a tweet on the current standoff between Malta and Italy over the fate of 629 migrants blocked on a humanitarian ship, Metsola described the standoff as a "sad battle of populists" between Malta's Prime Minister and Italian Home Affairs Minister Matteo Salvini.

Malta refused, and when Italy instructed the ship to stay at sea, Malta accused Italy of violating global norms.

The League leader defended his decision in a Facebook post, writing: "Malta takes in nobody". In practical terms, no ships of this type will be able to land without cooperation of the Italian coastguard, which is under the direct command of the Italian government.

SOS Mediterranean spokeswoman Mathilde Auvillain told The Associated Press the ship was "heading north following instructions received after the rescues and transfers" Saturday night.

Sea-Watch said police also questioned some of the rescued migrants who, after being processed by the authorities, are likely to end up in reception centres.

The group said it "urgently requests a swift resolution and a designated port of safety".

The ship Aquarius, carrying 629 migrants from Libya, including seven pregnant women, is operated by the charities Medecins Sans Frontieres and Sos Mediterranee.

Driven by violent conflicts and extreme poverty, hundreds of thousands of migrants have reached southern Europe in recent years by crossing the Mediterranean in smugglers' boats that often are unseaworthy.

For years the European Union has largely ignored Italy's rising fury at being left to deal with the migration crisis (even when it came from more politically acceptable figures like Matteo Renzi) but with Mr Salvini in charge, that may no longer be possible.