The Sea-Watch 3, a vessel run by a German humanitarian group, rescued 32 people from an unsafe boat off the coast of Libya on December 22, while another German charity, Sea-Eye, rescued 17 others on December 29.

Both ships have been floating in Maltese waters for weeks after all EU countries refused to offer them a safe port to dock.

On Wednesday afternoon, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced that eight nations had agreed to cooperate on the issue.

The announcement created division among Italy’s coalition government.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has been involved in efforts to come to an agreement, while Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio had called for his country to take in all women and children on board the ships.

However, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini – who is also a deputy prime minister – reiterated that absolutely no migrants should be allowed to dock, adding he’d not been consulted regarding the decision.

“Whether it’s eight or 88, I’m not authorising anyone to enter Italy,”  Salvini told reporters in Poland.

“You consult before a decision like this... The government won’t fall, but I will be asking for immediate clarification in the coming hours, as soon as I get back to Italy.” 

As well as Italy, Germany, France, Portugal, Ireland, Romania, Luxembourg and the Netherlands have agreed to take in some of the stranded migrants.

The exact number of migrants that Italy has agreed to take in has not been confirmed.