Malta stood its ground this evening after the Itaian foreign ministry said it would file a diplomatic protest to Malta over what it termed as its failure to rescue migrants off Lampedusa yesterday.

Ansa is reporting that Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has instructed the Italian Ambassador to Malta to file  a protest with the Maltese authorities about their failure to rescue the migrants.

But the Home Affairs Ministry this evening insisted that Malta had acted completely in line with its obligations and it would await the protest so that it would give a detailed account of how the incident unfolded.

The boat, carrying some 600 immigrants fleeing Libya, was located 42 miles off Lampedusa and 109 miles off Malta. The Rome rescue coordination authorities notified their Maltese counterparts about it.

The AFM managed to establish contact via satellite phone with the migrants, who included 170 women and 30 children and coordinated the rescue. Despite claiming that their boat was taking in water, they proceeded steadily directly north to Lampedusa.

Malta had initiated rescue efforts with the US Navy’s 6th Fleet Headquarters in Naples, as well as other merchant   shipping in the area, since Italian rescue assets were busy overnight with migrant boat rescue operations.

Despite the inclement weather and the considerable distance from Malta, an AFM patrol vessel cast off in search of the boat.

Early in the afternoon yesterday, a Nato aircraft contacted the Malta centre and confirmed that their boat was still afloat and heading north. An AFM aircraft was simultaneously scrambled to the area, successfully locating the migrants’ 20-metre boat.

Italian boats rescued the migrants just 19 miles from Lampedusa.

Italian media, including Rai, claimed that Malta had 'ignored' the call for help.