Aquarius: Stranded migrants land in Malta after standoff

Aquarius: Stranded migrants land in Malta after standoff

The Maltese authorities on Sunday finally took 58 migrants from the Aquarius to Valletta after they had waited for days in rough seas on the rescue ship that can no longer go to port after its flag was pulled.

The migrants, including Libyans, sub-Saharan Africans and Afghans, boarded two buses at a Malta Armed Forces base in Valletta after being transferred from the Aquarius to a Maltese patrol boat in international waters.

Their number includes a five-month pregnant woman and Bella the dog, the first animal rescued with migrants in the Mediterranean and they are to be sent on to four European countries after a tense standoff over their fate last week.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR said that it had not yet been decided where which of the migrants – 18 children, 17 women, 23 men and a dog – would go.

“We hope that they will leave Malta in a few days,” UNHCR representative Paolo Biondi told AFP at the base.

France has agreed to take 18 of the migrants, Germany and Spain 15 each and Portugal 10.

Panama pulled its flag from the ship a week ago, meaning the unregistered Aquarius would not be able to leave any port, while other rescue vessels already impounded in Valletta fight a protracted legal battle.

The group were picked up from two boats plying the perilous route between North Africa and Europe last Monday.

The Aquarius, chartered by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee, is the only civilian ship still trying to rescue migrants making the perilous journey from North Africa to Europe.

With no flag, Aquarius was expected to sail for its home port of Marseille in southern France. 

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