Malta to take in boat 'in distress'... as Salvini taunts

Malta to take in boat 'in distress'... as Salvini taunts

One of those on board is unconscious

Updated 6pm with Malta's action

Malta will be taking a group of 61 migrants, including an unconscious man, after their boat was deemed to be in "distress".

"Their dinghy is drifting and the motor isn't working. The boat is also showing signs of deflation," a government spokesman told Times of Malta on Saturday.  The boat was located 71 nautical miles south of Malta. 

The reaction came hours after Italy's right-wing deputy prime minister uploaded a picture of the migrants' boat on his Twitter feed.

The picture taken from an aircraft showed the male migrants packed into the dinghy, some of whom were seen waving at the prospective rescuers.

"Exclusive images of a dinghy with 70 immigrants in a boat with a powerful engine, in Maltese waters. Will someone do something to intervene or will they send them once again towards Italy?", Matteo Salvini said in a tweet.

Even since his election, the leader of Lega Nord kept up the pressure on Malta to take in any migrants that go through the island's search and rescue zone. 

Just three days ago he lashed out at the Maltese authorities for failing to intervene as a boat with 171 migrants on board sailed through the island's search and rescue area. The migrants remain in limbo off Lampedusa.

Read: Salvini says he has nothing against the Maltese people

Malta has always maintained that such boats have a "right of passage" unless the migrants are in distress or request help. 

The row between the two traditional allies illustrates how politically fraught the issue of coping with seaborne migrants remains despite a deal on migration that EU leaders agreed on at a summit in June.