Updated at 12.12pm
Thirty-nine migrants rescued on Friday night by a charity vessel will remain aboard that ship despite Malta offering to allow them in.
In a statement, the government said that the NGO which had rescued them had refused to transfer them to Malta unless a further 121 people it had aboard were also taken in.
The 39 were taken aboard the Open Arms after finding themselves in distress within Malta’s search and rescue zone.
On Saturday morning, the Maltese government said that the Armed Forces of Malta had been on its way to rescue the group when the charity vessel intervened.
“Malta has offered to transfer these 39 migrants aboard an AFM vessel and disembark them in Malta since these were rescued in an area of Malta’s responsibility and coordinated by RCC Malta,” the government said.
However, it said that Proactiva, the Spanish NGO that operates the Open Arms, was refusing to do so unless a further 121 people rescued by the ship's crew were also taken in.
Those 121 were rescued last week off Libya’s coast and have been denied entry into Italian ports by that country’s government.
Malta could “only shoulder its own responsibility since other solutions are not forthcoming,” the Maltese government said in its statement.
Reacting, Open Arms said that the Maltese government's stance was "unacceptable" and had caused significant security problems on deck.
Nine days in
The 121 rescued by the Open Arms have been at sea for the past nine days and it remains unclear where - or when - they will touch dry land.
On Friday, their plight was given a boost by the surprise visit of Hollywood star Richard Gere, who boarded the vessel with supplies in a show of solidarity.
Italy has made it clear that the vessel is not welcome in its ports unless an EU relocation deal is in place, despite the 121 people having been rescued off Libya's coast and close to Lampedusa.
Just last week, a situation concerning the German-registered NGO vessel Alan Kurdi was resolved when Germany stepped in and coordinated a relocation effort.
A similar resolution appears unlikely in the Open Arms' case, with Spanish media quoting a spokesperson from the Madrid government as saying that the country had not asked Brussels to intervene as it had no duty to do so.
On Friday, a European Commission spokesperson said that the EU was not mediating any negotiations to resolve the crisis.