- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2009

ROME (AP) - About 140 migrants arrived on Italian territory after being stranded aboard a cargo ship amid a standoff with Malta over who would take them, officials said Monday.

Italian military boats took about 120 of the travelers to Porto Empedocle in Sicily Monday. Twenty more who were ailing, as well as a pregnant woman, had been taken to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa late Sunday, port authorities said.

The Turkish ship Pinar had been the subject of a standoff between Italy and Malta over who should take in the 140 migrants. On Sunday, Italy said that, for humanitarian reasons, it would allow the migrants to land.

The migrants were apparently from Africa but authorities have not given the nationalities. Antonio Cacciatore of the Porto Empedocle port authority said the migrants would be identified and moved to immigrant shelters elsewhere in Sicily.

The migrants were reported in good condition. TV footage showed them getting off the Italian military ships, aided in some cases by the Italians. Some had towels on their heads.

On Thursday, the 230-foot Pinar rescued the migrants after the two small boats in which they were traveling began to founder.

During the standoff, the Pinar was anchored about 25 miles southwest of Lampedusa.

Malta insisted the Pinar take the migrants to Lampedusa because that was the nearest port. Italy contended Malta should accept them because the ship was in Malta’s search and rescue area.

A statement Sunday by the Italian Foreign Ministry said Italy had agreed to take them in solely because of the “humanitarian emergency” aboard the cargo ship, and that its decision was not a recognition of Malta’s reasons for refusing the migrants.

Officials said Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, who is from the anti-immigrant Northern League Party, made the decision after consultations with Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who had spoken by telephone with both the European Commission president and with the Maltese prime minister.

Each year, tens of thousands of migrants pay smugglers to try to reach Italian shores. Often their boats capsize, and nearby fishing boats or military ships rescue them.

Maltese army authorities said Malta contends that under international maritime conventions, the nearest port of call is obliged to accept rescued seafarers.

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