BERLIN: German charity Sea Watch said Wednesday it was ready to take on board 40 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the US Navy, but only if Italy agreed to open its ports to NGO vessels.
US Navy ship the Trenton had rescued the migrants on Tuesday after their rubber boat sank in an accident that claimed 12 lives, the German group said.
The US Navy posted photos of the rescue operation online, saying "40 people have been recovered and are being provided with food, water and medical care on board Trenton".
Sea Watch spokesman Ruben Neugebauer told AFP that "the US Navy vessel has asked us to take care of these people, and we are ready to welcome them if Italy opens its ports".
This week both Italy and Malta refused to accept the Aquarius charity boat which was carrying more than 600 rescued migrants, forcing it to head for more distant Spain instead.
Both the US Navy and Sea Watch vessels are currently in international waters, north of the Libyan capital Tripoli.
"We don't know if other people are still in the water", Neugebauer said, adding that from there it would take about 36 hours to reach an Italian port.
Italy's new far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini insisted Tuesday that the country's ports would no longer be open to charity boats carrying migrants after it turned away the Aquarius, operated by French NGO SOS Mediterranee.
He has repeatedly accused NGOs of working with human traffickers but said Italy would not stop rescuing migrant boats itself.
The head of SOS Mediterranee, Sophie Beau, voiced concern about the dangers of more deaths at sea since it had been forced to leave the main danger zone to head for Valencia, Spain.