SPAIN’S new prime minister has ordered authorities to allow a rescue ship carrying 629 migrants to dock in the eastern port of Valenica after the boat was refused access by Italy and Malta.

Pedro Sanchez’s office said: “It is our duty to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a secure port for these people.”

Amid the political dispute, the Aquarius, a rescue ship belonging to the SOS Mediterraneee charity, has been stuck in the Mediterranean Sea with its passengers, including 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women.

Medical workers said food on board the ship is due to run out by tonight.

The government statement said Spain wanted to comply with its international responsibilities on humanitarian crises.

The diplomatic stand-off between Italy and Malta escalated under Italy’s new anti-immigrant government.

Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini, head of the League party, said: “Enough! Saving lives is a duty, but transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp isn’t.”

He tweeted: #Chiudiamoiporti. “We’re closing the ports.”

Maltese premier Joseph Muscat also refused to take in the Aquarius ship of the humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee. He accused Italy, which co-ordinated the rescue, of violating international norms governing sea rescues.

Italy’s position, Muscat said, risked “creating a dangerous situation for all those involved”.

As the rhetoric intensified, the Aquarius remained on stand-by in the Mediterranean Sea. The ship said it had been ordered last night by Italy’s coastguard to remain 35 miles off Italy and 27 miles from Malta.

The stand-off marked the first clash over migrant rescues with League leader Salvini, who is now running Italy’s interior ministry.