US navy ship with 41 rescued migrants outside Sicilian port of Augusta

As Foreign Minister Carmelo Abela meets his Italian counterpart in Rome, a US military ship that saved 41 migrants three days ago still awaits clearance to disembark them at a safe port

The USNS Trenton rescued 41 migrants just outside Libyan waters on Tuesday
The USNS Trenton rescued 41 migrants just outside Libyan waters on Tuesday

A US vessel with 41 migrants aboard is still waiting for instructions where to disembark the people, three days after the rescue.

The USNS Trenton, part of the American Sixth Fleet based in Naples, rescued the migrants from a flimsy dinghy on Tuesday in international waters, off Libya.

The ship is now just outside the Sicilian port of Augusta, awaiting orders.

The Trenton was just outside the port of Augusta on Friday afternoon
The Trenton was just outside the port of Augusta on Friday afternoon

During the rescue operation 12 corpses were spotted in the sea but the ship said in a statement that the crew’s priority was to recover those “who needed immediate help”.

“The RHIBs and fast rescue boat conducted a follow-on search for these bodies, but did not find any additional persons at the scene.  If necessary, US navy ships are able to preserve remains in refrigerated storage,” the statement said, reacting to reports in the Italian press that the ship discarded the corpses at sea because it lacked cold storage facilities.

According to the non-governmental organisation Sea Watch, which operates a migrant rescue ship (Sea Watch 3), the US vessel had been refused entry into Italian ports.

The Sea Watch 3 was close to the US ship but declined to take the migrants on board because it has been barred from docking at Italian ports.

The NGO called for a quick decision to disembark the migrants after three days at sea on board the navy ship.

Sources said the Maltese government did not receive any formal request to accept the migrants.

Diplomatic efforts underway

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela met his Italian counterpart, Moavero Milanesi, in Rome on Friday. The meeting took place in the aftermath of the standoff between Malta and Italy over which country should have taken immigrants rescued by the Aquarius, a ship run by SOS Méditerranée, an aid organisation. Abela described the meeting as "positive".

In France, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte met French President Emmanuel Macron as the two tried to burry differences that erupted when the French president lashed out at Italy's refusal to dismebark the Aquarius migrants.

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