Activists protest as Italy prepares to ship migrants to Spain

The humanitarian ship Aquarius currently 43 nautical miles off Malta's coast carrying 629 migrants

The head of the French charity which charters the Aquarius migrant rescue ship said Tuesday that it would continue its operations despite the worldwide standoff over the 629 people now onboard.

Its route north will take it past Malta, and an official said that Salvini had written to the government of the small island state asking it to let The Aquarius dock there.

The ship was left stranded at sea over the weekend after it was denied access to the Italian and Maltese ports.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez "has given instructions for Spain to comply with its worldwide commitments in matters of humanitarian crises" according to a Moncloa statement.

"Victory!" Mr Salvini tweeted after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, a socialist who took office just over a week ago, gave instructions that the ship be allowed to dock in the eastern port of Valencia.

Migrants aboard SOS Mediterranee's Aquarius ship after being rescued in the Mediterranean Sea, in a photo released by by French NGO "SOS Mediterranee", on June 11, 2018.

SOS Mediterranee said an approaching storm would bring with it waves of over 2 metres (6.5 ft) making any trip to Spain highly uncomfortable.

"This plan would mean already exhausted rescued people would endure 4 more days travel at sea", Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Twitter.

"The people we saved yesterday were in a hard condition, at least 50 were at risk of drowning".

An Italian Coast Guard ship met the Aquarius at sea on Tuesday to take the migrants on board, and it will carry the migrants to Spain.

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Malta and Italy thanked Spain for stepping up, but maintained their dispute over who was responsible.

Matteo Salvini, the minister of the interior and the leader of the right-wing League party, said in a statement that "rescuing lives is a duty, transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp is not". More than 1.8 million have entered Europe since 2014.

Malta on Sunday reiterated its refusal to accept the ship, ignoring calls from Rome.

"We have the capacity to take them on board, but we will only do so if there is a written statement by Italian authorities that we will be able to disembark them within 36 hours", Neugebauer said.

Not everyone in Italy agreed with the government action, and the mayors of a number of southern cities, including Naples, Palermo and Messina, said they would welcome the migrants.

Maltese Premier Joseph Muscat accused Italy of violating worldwide norms governing sea rescues and said the government's stance risked "creating a risky situation for all those involved".

Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said his country had "asked for a gesture of solidarity from Europe and this gesture has been made".

The charity added the boat is carrying several critical drowning and hypothermia patients who had to be resuscitated, as well as several with chemical burns caused by being exposed to a toxic mixture of sea water and fuel for a long time.

The Spanish government said it would accept the ship at the port of Valencia.

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