Just five days after the migrants aboard rescue ship Aquarius finally disembarked in Spain, another rescue boat is at sea with nowhere to dock.
Malta and Italy have both refused to take in Lifeline, which is carrying more than 200 rescued migrants.
Italy hit out at the island for rejecting the boat, calling the decision “absurd” and “inhumane”.
Transport minister Danilo Toninelli made the comment on his Facebook page and posted an email from the Maltese Armed Forces saying the Lifeline was not in a Search and Rescue situation.
The Maltese email also said the ship “has not manifested any distress”.
Italy is storming ahead with its new tough stance against migrants, insisting it will not take “one more” refugee and warning the migration crisis could put the EU’s survival at stake.
The three-week-old populist government is threatening to seize rescue ships or to bar them from its ports.
“We cannot take in one more person,” hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini told the German weekly Der Spiegel. “On the contrary: we want to send away a few.”
Mr Salvini, who is also Italy’s deputy prime minister, barred the French NGO-run Aquarius rescue ship, carrying some 630 migrants, from docking in Italy.
This decision prompted an EU-wide row.
Discussing the German NGO, Mission Lifeline, he said: “The illegal boat Lifeline is now in Maltese waters with its cargo of 239 migrants. For the safety of its crew and the passengers, we’ve asked Malta to open its ports.
“Clearly, the boat should immediately be impounded and its crew arrested,” he added.
Lifeline is one of the less formally recognised search and rescue operators working in the Mediterranean.
The Maltese government has for several years refused to take migrant boats, saying it can’t cope with the numbers as it is a tiny island nation.
This was something the previous Italian government accepted, but it is not sitting well with the new, anti-migrant coalition power.
The Maltese interior minister responded to Italy on Twitter, writing that Mr Toninelli should: “get his facts right”.
He added: “Rescue took place in Libyan Search Rescue Region, between #Libya and #Lampedusa. The operation is coordinated by #Italy authorities. #Malta not involved.
2/2 @danilotoninelli:Considerable responsibility on #Lifeline which broke international rules by not following Rome instructions. Now loitering in internat’l waters risking a delicate situation. Vessel claims Dutch flag but #Netherlands say it is simply pleasure boat registration
— Michael Farrugia (@dr_micfarr) June 22, 2018
“@danilotoninelli:Considerable responsibility on #Lifeline which broke international rules by not following Rome instructions. Now loitering in internat’l waters risking a delicate situation. Vessel claims Dutch flag but #Netherlands say it is simply pleasure boat registration.”
This comes two days before informal EU talks and a week before a full bloc summit.
Mr Salvini is warning that the EU’s future survival is at stake over the migrant crisis.
“Within a year it will be decided whether there will still be a united Europe or not,” Mr Salvini told Der Spiegel.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said: “We know that no solution will be reached on Thursday and Friday at the level of the 28 member states… on the overall issue of migration”.
Instead, she said, “bilateral, trilateral and multilateral” deals must be reached to tackle the issue.
Elsewhere, considering following in Mr Salvini’s path, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said he was also ready to start turning away migrants if Berlin and Vienna did so, as Germany’s interior minister proposed earlier this week.
Horst Seehofer warned on Monday that he would give Ms Merkel a fortnight to find a deal to curb new arrivals by the 28-29 June EU summit.
If she fails, he has vowed to order border police to turn back migrants.