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The Latest: Italy-flagged migrant rescue ship sets sail

Claus-Peter Reisch, German captain of Lifeline, a private ship that rescued migrants, center, shares a laugh with Mission Lifeline activists dressed as dogs outside the courthouse ahead of a hearing in Valletta, Malta, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018. Reisch is accused of using the ship in Maltese waters without proper registration or license after rescuing 234 migrants early this summer off Libyan waters and then heading to Malta after Italy refused entrance to the ship. (AP Photo/Jonathan Borg)

MARSEILLE, France (AP) — The Latest on Europe’s migrant crisis (all times local):

12:50 p.m.

An Italian-flagged rescue ship has set sail for the deadly migrant smuggling route in the central Mediterranean Sea in the face of political moves by Italy’s populist government to shut down such operations.

The Mare Jonio, a former tug boat, has departed from the Sicilian port of Augusta.

The Mediterranea humanitarian group bought and equipped the 37-meter-long (120-foot-long) ship.

Lawmaker Nicola Fratoianni, whose party backs the project, said the humanitarian operation wasn’t merely a provocation against Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s refusal to allow rescue ships to dock in Italy.

He called it “a real rescue operation to fill the lack of rescue assets in the Mediterranean Sea.”

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10 a.m.

A humanitarian group operating a private ship that rescues migrants making the dangerous crossing to Europe through the Mediterranean says it has arrived in the southern port of Marseille.

SOS Mediterranee said Thursday the Aquarius is making a stopover while waiting for a new flag and is “determined to go back to sea as soon as possible.” The group urged European governments to find a new flag for the vessel to secure its future after Panama’s maritime authority removed the ship’s registration.

After five days stuck at sea in bad weather, 58 migrants saved on the Aquarius arrived in Malta over the weekend after being transferred to a Maltese naval vessel. The migrants will eventually be transferred to the four countries agreeing to accept them: France, Germany, Spain and Portugal.

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