PARIS | Portugal says it will take some migrants from rescue ship

PARIS — Portugal has become the first European country to say it could take in some migrants aboard the rescue ship Aquarius Tuesday, as officials in coastal France made impassioned pleas their government to allow it to dock there.

Portugal, which does not have a Mediterranean coastline, said it was willing to take 30 migrants from the rescue ship and from other, smaller boats it said were delivering migrants to Malta Tuesday.

The vessel, currently sailing between Malta and the Italian island of Lampedusa, is carrying 141 migrants that it rescued last week from the Mediterranean Sea.

Italy’s new anti-migrant government and Malta both refused to take it, prompting a rebuke from humanitarian group Amnesty International to “stop playing with refugee and migrants’ lives.”

Amid mounting pressure for European Union members to respond, Spain said it is working on a coordinated response to the Aquarius issue with the European Commission and other unnamed countries, said a Spanish government spokeswoman, who wasn’t authorized to be named.

Officials in the French island of Corsica, meanwhile, added pressure to a thus-far silent President Emmanuel Macron to make a decision on the fate of the ship, saying that the Aquarius should be allowed to dock there on humanitarian grounds.

The ship is operated by French aid groups who say the health of those rescued in two operations Friday is stable but that many are weak and malnourished.

“Simply, there’s a necessity today to get help to this ship,” Jean-Guy Talamoni, president of Corsica’s local assembly, told BFM-TV.

“It’s time (Europe) wakes up and that everyone takes their share of responsibility. In the meantime, there are emergency situations, and you have to deal with them,” he added.

Corsica’s executive council head, Gilles Simeoni increased the pressure on Tuesday with a tweet: “Corsica and its ports remain available for emergency humanitarian aid.”

Simeoni added that Europe needs a real European policy on the migrant issue in the Mediterranean sea.

In the coastal town of Sete near Montpellier in southern France, the port director also said he was ready to accept the Aquarius.

The comments serve to spur to action the French government and President Emmanuel Macron — who has yet to comment and who ultimately decides if the vessel will be accepted by France.

Arrivals into Europe of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa numbered just over 61,500 through Aug. 12, with 1,524 deaths reported, the UN migration agency said Tuesday.

That compared with more than 118,000 arrivals through the same period last year, and 265,640 in 2016.

Most migrants this year have headed to Spain, on what is known as the Western Mediterranean route, with 25,101 arrivals there, the agency said. Italy received 19,231, the second-highest number.

Quim Torra, the president of Spain’s Catalan region, offered three Catalan ports as safe harbor for the ship — setting himself apart from the Spanish government, which has remained silent on the vessel’s fate.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s minority government has come under political pressure over its migrant policy after it initially offered a generous welcome to the asylum-seekers and refugees.

Torra’s regional administration is in a standoff with the central government over demands for Catalan independence and has been keen to score political points against Sanchez.

A Spanish government spokeswoman who wasn’t authorized to be named said the negotiations with the European Commission on the Aquarius “are intense and demand discretion,” but should lead to a solution later Tuesday.

By THOMAS ADAMSON and BARRY HATTON ,Associated Press
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