A fresh standoff between Malta and Italy is taking shape over a group of 74 migrants rescued by a fishing vessel and which Malta is insisting should be accepted by Lampedusa.

Sources close to the government said the group was rescued on Sunday in an operation coordinated by Malta’s rescue and coordination centre.  It said the 74 migrants were currently on the fishing vessel which Malta had instructed to rescue the migrants in distress.

It is a few miles off Lampedusa, which is the closest safe port of call. However Italy, as well as Malta, have shut their ports, citing coronavirus prevention measures. 

News agency ANSA reported on Monday that a heavily pregnant woman and her husband were medically evacuated from the fishing vessel about 18 nautical miles off Lampedusa. The woman, in her ninth month of pregnancy, was transferred to the Pelagie island and then taken to hospital. 

It was Alarm Phone, an NGO that answers calls from distressed people at sea, who raised the alarm on a group of 50 migrants in Malta’s search and rescue zone on Saturday.

On Monday, it said it had been informed that a fishing vessel had rescued the migrants but had no information on their whereabouts. 

It said it had lost contact with the migrants who had reported that their boat was taking in water and that weather conditions were very dangerous. A spokesperson for the Armed Forces of Malta said the army had no information about the boat.

Malta’s ports were closed in April due to COVID-19 with more than 150 people saved since currently being held on two chartered private ferries, usually used for harbour cruises.

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