Huge waves and strong winds forced a migrant rescue ship caught in a major diplomatic row to take a detour Thursday on its way to Spain, with many aboard suffering from seasickness and shock, a French charity said.
Spain agreed to take in the Aquarius vessel, which originally had 629 migrants aboard, after Italy and Malta refused to grant access to their ports for it to dock over weekend.
The rescue ship, run by French charity SOS Mediterranee, has since transferred hundreds of the migrants to two Italian vessels, and the convoy is sailing across the Mediterranean to the Spanish port of Valencia.
The charity said Thursday that the Italian coast guard vessel guiding the Aquarius ship had decided to divert the convoy north along the east coast of Sardinia to bypass four-metre (13-feet) high waves and winds of 35 knots (65 km/h).
The move was to "protect itself from the otherwise unbearable bad weather for the people on board, who are exhausted, suffering from shock and seasickness," the NGO said on Twitter.
As well as tension between Malta and Italy over who was responsible for helping the rescue ship, another bigger row erupted on Tuesday when French President Emmanuel Macron accused the Italian government of "cynicism and irresponsibility".
Italy's new economy minister shelved a meeting with his French counterpart in Paris on Wednesday as a result of the dispute.
However, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Thursday he believed the row had been resolved after a phone conservation with Macron.
The pair are set to meet Friday in Paris for talks, including on migration.
The plight of the Aquarius has again highlighted the failure of EU member states to work together to deal with an unprecedented influx of migrants since 2015.
On Thursday Pope Francis called for "assistance from the entire international community" to help "isolated and vulnerable" migrants.
"In order to acknowledge and respond to the current migration situation, the assistance of the entire international community is needed, since its transnational dimension exceeds the capacities and resources of many States," said Francis in a message to participants at a conference on international migration at the Vatican.
This handout picture from Medecins Sans Frontieres shows rescued migrants onboard an Italian coastguard ship following their transfer from the French NGO's ship Aquarius