EU urges 'swift resolution' on boat carrying stranded migrants

European body calls on all those involved to contribute to swift resolution allow boat carrying more than 600 migrants to dock as soon as possible.

BRUSSELS - The European Union on Monday called on Italy and Malta to reach a "swift resolution" to allow a boat carrying hundreds of migrants to dock, saying it was a "humanitarian imperative."

More than 600 people are stuck aboard the ship Aquarius, run by a French charity, which is currently waiting between Malta and Italy while the two countries row over who should take responsibility.

"The priority of both the Italian and Maltese authorities should be ensuring these people receive the care they need," European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told a daily briefing.

"We call on all involved to contribute to a swift resolution so that the people on board the Aquarius vessel may be safely disembarked as soon as possible."

Echoing similar calls by the UN and the bloc's biggest member state Germany, Schinas added: "For the commission there is first and foremost a humanitarian imperative, we are talking about people."

The legal situation regarding who should take responsibility was, however, "not at all clear", said Natasha Bertaud, a European Commission spokeswoman for migration.

International law says the decision on where a boat must dock depends on the country coordinating the search and rescue operation, but the law "does not say that it should be that country itself."

Malta on Sunday reiterated its refusal to accept the ship, ignoring calls from Rome.

Italy's hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini insisted that Malta "cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise international conventions on the protection of human life".