The U.N. refugee agency, the European Union, Germany and humanitarian groups had all demanded that the Mediterranean countries put their domestic politics aside and urgently consider the plight of the 629 migrants, among them more than 100 children, pregnant women and people suffering from hypothermia.
But after Italy's new far-right interior minister said it couldn't dock, and then Malta said the migrants were Italy's responsibility since Italy's coast guard oversaw the rescue, the ship was running out of provisions.
Mayors of Naples and Palermo in turn vented their anger at Salvini, as they stated that their cities would be more than happy to accept those in need of shelter despite the fact that both cities had been suffering from major migrant influx in the past five years.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who took office just over a week ago, has given instructions for the boat to be admitted to the eastern port of Valencia, his office said in a statement.
Barcelona's mayor Ada Colau also offered to welcome the ship, arguing that saving human lives should be prioritised. Valletta said that since the rescue happened in the Libyan search and rescue area and was coordinated from Rome, Malta is neither the coordinating authority nor has the competence to settle this issue, thus it would not take in the migrants and asylum seekers.
A little more than a week ago, Italy's new interior minister, Matteo Salvini, told a crowd that "Italy and Sicily can not be Europe's refugee camp" and "the good times for illegals are over", Deutsche Welle reports.
He also complained, on Facebook that: "Malta takes in nobody".
Italy's hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini, in a joint statement with Danilo Toninelli, minister in charge of the Italian coastguard, insisted that Malta "cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise global conventions on the protection of human life".
Migrants are rescued by staff members of the MV Aquarius, a search and rescue ship run in partnership between SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres in the central Mediterranean Sea, June 9, 2018. Now, in one of the first tests of that principle, Italy has denied a Doctors Without Borders ship carrying hundreds of Libyan migrants permission to dock at their ports. Saving lives is a duty, transforming Italy in a refugee camp isn't.
Maltese Premier Joseph Muscat accused Italy of violating global norms governing sea rescues and said its stance risked "creating a risky situation for all those involved".
The Maltese Rescue Coordination Centre "is neither the competent nor the coordinating authority", the statement said.
Satisfied with Spain's offer, Salvini later told reporters the standoff with Malta was "an important first signal" that Italy would no longer tolerate being left alone to accept and process would-be refugees.
At the same time, the new Italian government saw revolt among their own ranks as several mayors from the parties now out of power criticized them for the decision. "Italy has stopped bowing down, it's now time to say no".
The island-country refused saying it was Italy's responsibility since the rescue was overseen by the Italian coastguard.
Italy has always been a destination for migrants crossing the Mediterranean and has been dealing with a surge in arrivals in recent years.