ROME • Italy defiantly declared yesterday that its ports were closed to foreign-flagged rescue ships as German charity vessel Lifeline lay off the coast of Malta in limbo, with more than 230 migrants aboard.
Malta - which is also refusing to take in the boat in a new diplomatic stand-off with Italy - nevertheless said it had sent in humanitarian supplies.
"The Lifeline, an illegal ship with 239 immigrants on board, is in Maltese waters," Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini wrote on Facebook.
"These boats can forget about reaching Italy, I want to stop the business of trafficking and mafia."
Mr Salvini's tough talk came on the eve of an emergency mini-summit in Brussels to address the divisive issue of how the European Union can tackle the renewed influx of migrants and refugees seeking a new life in Europe.
Just three weeks in office, Italy's new populist government is digging its heels in on campaign promises to stop the influx of migrants, threatening to seize rescue ships or barring them from its ports.
The crisis has also caused ructions in Germany, with Chancellor Angela Merkel facing a rebellion from her coalition allies over her policies.
Meanwhile, more than 400 migrants were rescued in three operations off the coast of Spain yesterday, just days after Madrid took in the more than 600 migrants rejected by Italy and Malta.
The Libyan navy said five people died and nearly 200 were rescued off its coast while trying to cross the Mediterranean.
The Italian government has said that both the Lifeline, run by German NGO Mission Lifeline, and another ship Seefuchs, run by another German charity Sea-Eye - would be seized and directed to Italian ports for investigation "into their legal status".
Rome accuses the Lifeline of having acted in contravention of international law by taking on board migrants while the Libyan coastguard was intervening.