Valletta (AFP) - The Maltese government said Saturday it would take in 39 migrants just plucked from the Mediterranean but refused entry to 121 others aboard the same rescue vessel for more than a week.
As a result, Spain's Proactiva Open Arms ONG decided not to disembark any migrants in Malta.
Valletta issued a statement saying it could transfer the 39 migrants rescued late Friday since they were in Malta's rescue zone and the operation had been coordinated.
"Nevertheless, Open Arms is refusing to do so and is insisting that Malta also takes another 121 migrants who were intercepted in an area where Malta is neither responsible nor the competent coordinating authority," the statement said.
Proactiva founder Oscar Camps hit out at Malta.
The decision not to allow the 121 migrants into Malta "caused a serious security problem on board" the Open Arms rescue ship, Camps tweeted.
"The anxiety levels of these people is unbearable," he said.
Hollywood star Richard Gere had boarded the Open Arms on Friday to highlight the plight of those stranded, including 30 children.
"We brought as much water and as much food as we possibly can, for everybody on board," Gere said.
"The most important thing for these people here is to be able to get to a free port, to be able to get off the boat, to start a new life for themselves," Gere said.
He was due to hold a press conference with Camps later Saturday on the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Rome has warned it will not take in the latest migrants as the European Union appeals for member states to work out a solution.
France announced on July 22 that 14 EU states had agreed on a "solidarity mechanism" to share out migrants saved on the Mediterranean, so long as they were allowed to disembark.