Rescue ship Aquarius is back off Libyan coast to save migrants

Migrants arrive in the port of Messina after a rescue operation at see on April 18, 2015 in Sicily. AFP PHOTO / GIOVANNI ISOLINO (Photo credit should read GIOVANNI ISOLINO/AFP/Getty Images)

Two French groups operating the rescue ship Aquarius said on Saturday it was back in Libyan coastal waters for the first time since triggering a diplomatic row over migration in June.

The Aquarius picked up 141 people on Friday in two separate operations, SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders said on Twitter.

The Aquarius “remains in the search and rescue zone, and on the lookout for any other craft in distress”.

The group’s announcement marks a return to the sea after a diplomatic spat that began in June when the Aquarius, having picked up 630 stranded migrants including children and pregnant women, was refused access to dock in Malta and Italy.

Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini later threatened to turn away any migrant rescue boats, sparking a fresh row among the EU’s 28 members over how to handle the influx of people fleeing war and poverty.

After the ship was stranded at sea for days, the new Socialist Spanish government offered to let it land at Valencia, where its passengers disembarked later in June.

Salvini said in a radio interview on Saturday that the Aquarius “would never see an Italian port”.

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