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France rejects dock request from Aquarius migrant ship, suggests Malta

Maud Veith/SOS Méditerranée/AFP | SOS Méditerranée handout photo shows the Aquarius rescue ship run by NGOs "SOS Méditerranée" and "Médecins Sans Frontières” in the search and rescue zone in the Mediterranean Sea on September 18, 2018.

France is pushing for the Aquarius to dock and disembark dozens of migrants in Malta, a presidential source said Tuesday, after the ship’s Panamanian registration was revoked over the weekend.

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"We are clear on the fact that it shouldn't spend four to five days at sea going towards France or Spain or anywhere," a French presidential source told the AFP on condition of anonymity. "It needs to dock soon and it is close to Malta at the moment.”

The development came hours after French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said France was not ready to respond positively to a request from the charities running the ship for permission to dock in the southern French port city of Marseilles.

Le Maire said ships were supposed to dock at the nearest port under European rules and Marseille was not the nearest.

“On matters of migration, the issue must be handled firmly and clearly, and European rules respected,” the minister said.

Portugal to take 10 migrants

Portugal announced Tuesday that it had reached a deal with France and Spain to take in 10 of the 58 migrants on board the Aquarius.

The decision was taken "in a united and joint manner with Spain and France", the Portuguese interior ministry said in a statement, without specifying where the ship would dock.

Aquarius 2 is the one remaining charity rescue vessel still operating in the Central Mediterranean area, picking up migrants who are in many cases trying to get to Europe from Libya.

The charity groups suffered a major blow on Monday, when in addition to the recent barring of their boats at Italian ports, Panama authorities revoked the Aquarius vessel’s registration.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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