Updated at 8.40pm with Salvini's tweet

A rescue vessel carrying 47 people saved off the Libyan coast is headed towards Malta after being denied permission to disembark in Lampedusa, with the stage set for a repeat of the humanitarian crisis which played out earlier this month.

Sea-Watch 3 has sought permission to head towards Malta for shelter, but is still waiting for permission from the authorities to enter Maltese waters. A spokesman said the boat will not enter Maltese waters without permission. 

He added that the boat did not have adequate coverage from bad weather at Lampedusa.

Screen grab from Marine Traffic.Screen grab from Marine Traffic.

A spokesman for the Germany-registered NGO told Times of Malta on Wednesday afternoon: “We have no clearance to enter Lampedusa and worsening weather has forced us to leave the area to look for shelter.” 

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A Maltese government spokesman declined to comment.

In a tweet on Wednesday evening, Italy's right-wing deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini reiterated that Italy's ports were closed and said Malta had to welcome Sea Watch. The Netherlands, he said, was willing to collaborate with Valletta to manage the landing and reception of migrants under the direction of Brussels.

Repeat scenario

Just two weeks ago, the Sea-Watch 3 crew found themselves in the exact same predicament, after Italy unabashedly ignored the vessel.

Malta first agreed to allow the ship into its territorial waters to shelter from rough weather, before eventually giving it permission to dock after striking a deal with seven other EU member states to share relocation duties. 

The Sea-Watch 3 was one of several NGO rescue vessels detained by Maltese authorities last year, after local port authorities said that they had concerns about the ships' registration documents. 

It finally left Malta in October, to resume migrant rescue missions across the central Mediterranean. 

On Tuesday, Times of Malta reported that the ship had tried to contact Italian and Maltese authorities after its latest sea rescue, only to be told to head towards Libya.

The NGO claims Libya’s coast guard did not answer its calls and that in any case, it does not consider the North African state to be a safe port of call.

At the time, a Maltese government spokesman had said that Malta was “neither the appropriate nor the competent authority” in this case. 

A dangerous journey

Although the number of people attempting to cross the Mediterranean by sea has declined over previous years, the route remains a death trap, with many never making it alive.

Last week, more than 100 people are believed to have died or gone missing after their vessel issued a distress call while out at sea. Their distress call was picked up by NGO reconnaissance aircraft Moonbird – which was kept grounded in Malta by authorities for more than five months last year - and relayed to Italian authorities.

By the time an Italian navy vessel reached the area, just three survivors remained, according to Sea-Watch.