Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez gave instructions on Monday for Spain to offer a "safe port" to the vessel Aquarius, which is now at sea with more than 600 migrants and refugees on board. Six different rescue operations took place over the weekend off the coast of Libya, coordinated by the Italian coast guard.
After Sanchez's move, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte thanked Spain - as did Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat while also blaming Italy for the ship's prolonged journey.
Doctors Without Borders, which has staff aboard the Aquarius, said the rescued migrants were stable for now but that food and water on the ship would run out by Monday night.
"From today, Italy will also start to say no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration".
It suggested that the hundreds on board "are running out of provisions".
The 77-metre ship, the Aquarius, was effectively stranded on Monday in global waters in the Mediterranean, between Sicily and Malta, while its captain tried to find a secure port.
Italy's refusal to take in the migrants is the first sign of the new government's hardened stance on immigration.
"We will not turn Italy into a huge refugee camp", he wrote.
"The people we saved yesterday were in a hard condition, at least 50 were at risk of drowning".
Although Spain offered safe harbour to the boat and the 629 migrants on board, the episode has raised questions about a country's legal obligations towards those rescued at sea. In a video, she said: "People are slowly getting up and getting ready for their first meal and we are yet to learn which port they are going to be using to disembark".
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A humanitarian ship with more than 600 migrants on board remains adrift in worldwide waters as Italy and Malta are at loggerheads over which country should take them.
The rescuers say those on board Acquarius include 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children, and 7 pregnant women.
Salvini pointed to Malta's unwillingness to help in accusing Europe as a whole of leaving Italy on its own to deal with the refugee crisis. While the details of that agreement were not made public, Salvini told Russians at the time that his goal was to work "so that Italy has real parliamentary elections, just as open as in your country".
The Maltese Rescue Coordination Centre "is neither the competent nor the coordinating authority", the statement said.
The episode has divided opinions in southern Italy, with anti-migrant moods apparently on the rise.
But the Spanish ports may be too far away for the overburdened Aquarius.
"We would need a resupply at sea which is not so easy to organize so we urge Italy to find a solution very soon close to our position", he told The Associated Press in Paris.
Also on Monday, Salvini signaled his intention to prevent a second foreign-flagged search-and-rescue vessel, Sea Watch 3, operated by a group of German volunteers and now positioned off the coast of Libya, from docking.
In the meantime some in Italy have offered to take in the migrants, with the mayor of Taranto, Rinaldo Melucci, saying that the Calabrian port city was "ready to embrace every life in danger". While he agreed that there should be a more fair distribution of migrants in the European Union, he said Salvini was "making a point at the cost of people in distress".