Paper boats lay on the esplanade during a demonstration at the European Parliament in Brussels, Wednesday, June 27, 2018. Demonstrators on Wednesday called on EU leaders to show solidarity toward migrants, and reform the Dublin system based on the proposal by the European Parliament. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

The Latest: Migrant aid ship docks in Malta with fanfare

June 27, 2018 - 1:54 pm

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — The Latest on Europe's migrant crisis (all times local):

8:40 p.m.

An aid ship carrying 234 migrants has docked in Malta's capital after eight European nations agreed to accept the passengers who qualify as refugees.

The commander of the ship operated by the German aid group Mission Lifeline sounded the boat's horn with two long blasts to salute the migrants after their shared journey of nearly a week while awaiting permission to make landfall.

Many of the rescued passengers stood on decks wearing orange life vests and some waved.

A yellow flag was raised on the ship, signaling that authorities had permission to board. The Maltese flag also was raised as a courtesy and an acknowledgement of Malta's decision to allow the ship to dock in the port of Valetta.

On shore, Mission Lifeline spokesman Axel Steier thanked the Maltese authorities for authorizing the rescue ship to land.


8:25 p.m.

A private aid ship loaded with 234 rescued migrants has entered the harbor of Malta's capital, where it will disembark after days of limbo at sea.

The passengers, some wrapped in blankets, some waving, crowded the decks as the ship neared port of Valletta port on Wednesday evening. After they arrive, the migrants will be taken to a reception center.

Malta's prime minister said earlier Wednesday that the Lifeline would be allowed to dock in Malta after seven other EU nations agreed to accept some migrants who are deemed eligible for refugee status.

Others will be returned to their home countries.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the ship would be seized upon arrival and its crew put under investigation for alleged violations of protocol and improper registrations.


5:30 p.m.

German officials say they're hopeful that fellow European Union countries will agree to limit the movement of asylum-seekers within the bloc at a summit starting Thursday.

A draft declaration states that EU members "should take all necessary internal legislative and administrative measures" to prevent people who have registered as refugees in one country from moving to another.

Current EU rules are already meant to prevent this so-called "secondary migration," but in practice haven't been enforced rigidly.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative allies are demanding an end to such movements, which resulted in over a million refugees entering Germany since 2015.

A senior German official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said his impression from "preliminary discussions" was that the overwhelming majority of EU leaders "don't have a problem with this," but conceded that unanimity is required.

__ By Frank Jordans in Berlin


4:00 p.m.

A French government spokesman said European authorities are confident working with private aid groups that rescue migrants from the Mediterranean Sea as long as the groups' ships respect maritime laws and operate safely.

Benjamin Griveaux told reporters on Wednesday that a lot of humanitarian groups are involved in the European response to the migrant crisis.

Commenting on a German group's ship that didn't receive permission to dock anywhere for six days, Griveaux alleged the crew of the Lifeline disconnects its transponder during rescue operations, making the boat impossible to locate.

He says the practice increases the danger of a collision with another ship and could passengers who need aid.

The Lifeline received permission to make port in Malta on Wednesday. Maltese authorities say its more than 200 rescued passengers will be distributed among eight EU states, including France.


3:20 p.m.

A top French official has questioned the legality of a migrant rescue ship that has been off the coasts of Malta for six days, saying there were some "obvious unlawful elements" in the actions of the German aid group operating it.

The official said the ship, which has a Dutch flag, was not duly registered as a rescue ship in the Netherlands —but as a pleasure boat on a secondary register.

The official was speaking anonymously in accordance with the French presidency's practices on a sensitive matter.

The comments come one day after French President Emmanuel Macron criticized the NGO, telling reporters it intervened in violation with the rules and the Libyan coast guard authorities.

Malta said Wednesday it will allow the ship to dock, and that eight EU countries — including France — will take in the more than 200 migrants onboard.


3:10 p.m.

The prime minister of Malta says that eight EU countries — not seven as he initially said — will accept migrants from a humanitarian rescue ship that has been at sea for nearly a week.

Joseph Muscat initially identified seven countries during a press conference Wednesday, but added an eighth at the end. The eight countries are France, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Malta.

Muscat said the migrants would be vetted in Malta to determine if they were eligible for refugee status or if they were purely economic migrants. He said economic migrants would be returned to their countries of origin while others will be distributed among the eight countries. How many each country takes will be determined later.


2:30 p.m.

The prime minister of Malta says it will allow a humanitarian rescue ship to dock in Malta, and that the more than 200 migrants on board would be distributed among seven EU states.

Joseph Muscat told a press conference that the ship operated by German group Lifeline Mission was expected to arrive Wednesday evening. The ship picked up the migrants off the Libyan coast six days ago but has been waiting for safe haven at sea.

He said that the ship would be impounded and that upon arrival, the migrants would be vetted. Asylum would be given to those eligible while others will be returned to their country of origin.

He said authorities would investigate the legality of the ship's registration and its behavior at sea, including the fact it appears to have turned off its transponder.


1:50 p.m.

The German government says officials are discussing whether the country should take in some of the migrants who are stuck on a rescue ship off Malta.

The group operating the ship, Mission Lifeline, said Wednesday that Germany's Interior Minister Horst Seehofer is blocking a deal which would see his country agree to accept some of the migrants.

Interior ministry spokeswoman Eleonore Petermann said "there are talks within the government right now" but that she wasn't aware of her boss blocking an agreement.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said that "in such a question it's important that the government acts as one." He declined to say whether Chancellor Angela Merkel favored taking in some of the 200 migrants on the ship.


1 p.m.

The far-right Alternative for German party is calling for private ships rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean Sea to be impounded.

Deputy party leader Georg Pazderski on Wednesday accused groups such as the one that operates the German vessel Lifeline of being "accomplices" to people smugglers operating in the Mediterranean.

Pazderski said his party, known as AfD, wants the sea route "closed" to migrants and any people picked up en route to be "taken back to Africa immediately."

AfD came third in last year's German election, buoyed by a wave of anti-migrant sentiment following the arrival of more than a million asylum-seekers since 2015. Most of the migrants fled wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, but a sizeable number were also trying to escape poverty in Africa.


12:45 p.m.

Malta has confirmed that the migrant rescue ship Lifeline has permission to enter its waters to shelter from rough seas, but not its ports.

German humanitarian group Mission Lifeline said on Twitter Wednesday that it had received permission to enter Maltese waters to seek protection from high winds.

Permission was confirmed by Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia. The ship until now has been in a contiguous zone, a band of water still under Malta's responsibility but at the outer edge of territorial seas.

Lifeline is still waiting for permission to make port and disembark more than 200 migrants, some of whom they say are in a fragile state of health. The boat has been in a holding pattern for six days after Italy refused to grant safe harbor.


11:35 a.m.

A German lawmaker says conditions on the migrant rescue ship denied landing in Malta are deteriorating, as the weather takes a turn for the worse.

Manuel Sarrazin, a Green party lawmaker who's in regular contact with the Lifeline and its supporters, said Wednesday that the crew were close to declaring a medical emergency overnight for two of the over 200 migrants on board.

Sarrazin told The Associated Press that "doctors on board were able to stabilize them so the evacuation, which would have been very dangerous, didn't have to take place."

He said the passengers are suffering from severe sea sickness due to rough seas, adding: "They are at risk of dehydration. It's been clear for days that the situation could get worse. There needs to be a solution soon."


11:30 a.m.

A German rescue ship with more than 200 migrants on board remains in a holding pattern off Malta for the sixth day after EU states failed to agree on a plan to equitably distribute the migrants.

Mission Lifeline spokesman Axel Steier said Wednesday that weather conditions were deteriorating and some people rescued at sea were in fragile health.

Italy on Tuesday said a deal had been reached that included Italy taking some migrants, and that the ship would head to Malta. But Malta later indicated it didn't have a broader agreement it was seeking from EU states, with just four countries agreeing to take migrants.

Steier claimed that the crisis was blocked by Germany's interior minister, citing media reports. The Interior Ministry did not immediately comment.


11:00 a.m.

Greek authorities say a vehicle carrying 10 migrants has crashed in rainfall on a highway in northern Greece, killing two and injuring the other eight.

Police said the 10, including two children, were believed to have crossed the Greek-Turkish border recently, and were being driven to the northern city of Thessaloniki. The car's driver escaped and was being sought.

The two dead were both men, authorities said. The remaining eight were transferred to a local hospital, where their condition was not listed as serious. Firefighters said the injured said they were Syrian.

Thousands of migrants continue to arrive in Greece, hoping to eventually make it into more prosperous European Union countries. Many cross from the Greek-Turkish land border, as well as to eastern Aegean islands from the nearby Turkish coast.

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