Updated at 11.39am

A migrant rescue vessel which Italian media claimed was heading to Malta is seeking to disembark in Lampedusa, the NGO behind it has insisted. 

The Sea Watch 3 rescued 52 people on Wednesday from a rubber boat in distress, about 47 miles off Zawiya, Libya.

Italian media on Friday claimed that the ship and its crew were en route to Malta, having veered east after nearing the Italian island of Lampedusa. 

However, a spokesman for the NGO denied this. 

"We have no indication [of where the vessel can disembark]. As long as we have no indication, we follow the law and head to Lampedusa," the spokesman told Times of Malta.

"It is the closest port of safety". 

Under international law, ships which rescue people in distress should take their rescued passengers to the closest port of safety. 

A Maltese government source told the Times of Malta they had no request from the NGO to head to Malta. 

The Sea Watch 3's mission was further complicated on Thursday when Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini ordered law enforcement authorities to take all necessary measures to prevent the entry into or transit through Italian waters of the ship.

The Dutch-flagged vessel is currently cruising at 3.6 knots.The Dutch-flagged vessel is currently cruising at 3.6 knots.

The incident coincides with a two-hour mini-summit meeting being held in Malta on Friday, aimed at regrouping leaders of southern member states in preparation for talks in Brussels next week.

The leaders of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus are attending the Malta meeting.

More as the story unfolds.