FILE - In this Aug.1, 2018 file photo, the French NGO "SOS Mediterranee" Aquarius ship leaves the Marseille harbor, southern France. he European Commission said Monday Aug.13, 2018 that it is in contact with a number of member states to identify a country willing to take 141 migrants picked up by a rescue ship, after the French aid groups operating the ship appealed for a safe port and Italy said Britain should take responsibility. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, File)

The Latest: Spanish rescuers intercept 524 migrants

August 15, 2018 - 9:53 am

BERLIN (AP) — The Latest on a ship carrying rescued migrants in the Mediterranean (all times local):

4:00 p.m.

Spanish rescue services say they have pulled 524 migrants to safety from 12 boats attempting to reach Spain from northern Africa, currently the most used sea route into Europe.

Spain's Maritime Rescue Service said Wednesday 240 migrants were traveling in seven boats across the Strait of Gibraltar, the shortest route, and five boats were found crossing the so-called Alboran Sea further east with a total of 284 people on board.

The service says authorities are continuing the search for more dinghies.

As a crackdown in Libya has made it more difficult to reach Italy, many are attempting the trip from Algeria and Morocco into Spain, where more than 25,000 people have already arrived by sea in 2018.

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3:10 p.m.

The Aquarius rescue ship has reached Malta's main port carrying 141 migrants rescued off Libya last Friday but whose landfall was delayed as European states bartered over who would take them.

Cheers went up on the ship as the vessel docked in the port of Senglea on Wednesday. The ship carried 97 males and 44 females mostly from Somalia and Eritrea, including 67 unaccompanied minors.

Malta on Tuesday agreed to allow the migrants to disembark as part of an EU deal that the island nation called "a concrete example of European leadership and solidarity." The migrants will be distributed among France, Luxembourg, Germany, Portugal and Spain.

The aid groups SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders, which operate the rescue ship, had appealed to Italy and Malta for safe harbor.

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1:48 p.m.

The U.N. refugee agency is urging European countries to end a string of impasses over ships carrying rescued migrants and put together a Mediterranean regional arrangement that makes clear where such vessels can dock.

The Geneva-based agency welcomed Malta's decision Tuesday to allow the private Aquarius ship to dock, with the 141 migrants on board to be distributed among five fellow European Union nations.

But U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement Wednesday that "the situation should never have come to this in the first place."

He added that "it is wrong, dangerous and immoral to keep rescue ships wandering the Mediterranean while governments compete on who can take the least responsibility."

Italy's new government is refusing to allow any private rescue ships to dock.

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