Italy and Malta are in a tense stand-off over which country should accept an NGO rescue boat carrying nearly 630 migrants. Malta said the rescue of the migrants, who set out from Libya, had been coordinated by Rome and was therefore the responsibility of Italy. But Italy’s coalition government, in what could be the start of a new, hard-line stance, said it would not accept the asylum seekers either. It means the boat is stranded in the Mediterranean as both nations refuse to allow the vessel to dock. Matteo Salvini, the interior minister, who is also head of the hard-Right, anti-migrant League party, wrote an urgent letter to Malta saying that the Maltese capital, Valletta, was the nearest port of call. The migrants were rescued by the Aquarius, which is operated by the Medecins Sans Frontieres and Sos Mediterranee charities Credit: Karpov/SOS MEDITERRANEE Mr Salvini’s stance could herald the eventual closing of all Italian ports to NGO vessels with migrants on board, the Italian press speculated. He has criticised humanitarian organisations for providing what he has called a “taxi service” for migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya. More than 700,000 have reached Italy in the last five years, with Rome long complaining that it has been left to fend for itself by the rest of the EU. The 629 migrants were rescued by the Aquarius, a vessel operated by the charities Medecins Sans Frontieres and Sos Mediterranee, off the coast of Libya on Saturday. They included 123 non-accompanied minors, 11 children and seven pregnant women. The rescue boat includes more than 100 children Credit: Karpov/SOS MEDITERRANEE On Saturday, 400 other migrants who had been rescued at sea were disembarked in the Italian ports of Reggio Calabria and Pozzallo. They, too, had been denied disembarkation in Malta, provoking the ire of Mr Salvini. “They can’t keep saying no to requests for help,” he said of the Maltese authorities. “If anyone thinks I’ll allow another summer of (migrant) landings, without lifting a finger – that is not what I will be doing as minister of the interior.” Mediterranean migration routes Mr Salvini wants to dramatically speed up the repatriation of migrants whose asylum applications have been rejected. He aims to expel up to half a million unauthorised migrants.