BRITAIN could be responsible for taking in 141 migrants rescued from the Med because the ship is flying under Gibraltar’s flag.

Italy has called on the UK to allow the rescue boat Aquarius to dock here after it has been stranded at sea for several days since the government in Rome refused it entry

The vessel’s passengers, which include 67 unaccompanied minors and is mainly made up of Somalis and Eritreans, were picked up off the coast of Libya on Friday.

It is run by Franco-German charity SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders, and is now sitting in international waters between Italy and Malta.

But Italy's transport minister Danilo Toninelli said it would not be docking in his country, and instead should be sailed to Britain, as Gibraltar is our overseas territory.

He said on Twitter today: “At this point, the United Kingdom should assume its responsibility to safeguard the castaways.”

Malta has also confirmed it will not allow the ship to come into its ports, with the EU now trying to broker a place for it to dock.

The charities have been calling for urgent humanitarian assistance for those on board, who they said were weak and malnourished.

Nick Romaniuk, search and rescue coordinator for SOS Mediterranee, said: “What is of utmost importance is that the survivors are brought to a place of safety without delay, where their basic needs can be met and where they can be protected from abuse.”

The European Commission said that as the flag state, the UK could be responsible, but suggested the circumstances of the rescue also had to be looked at.

At a regular briefing for journalists in Brussels, Tove Ernst, the commission's spokeswoman on migration, said: "There is a possibility that the flag state, that there could a case for the flag state to be responsible.

"However, this may not be practically feasible and it is also really depending on the situation and who is co-ordinating where the events took place."

She added: "We are now in contact with a number of member states and stand ready to lend our full and swift diplomatic support to resolve this situation."

Italy has repeatedly refused rescue ships entry to its ports, and in June the Aquarius spent nine days at sea after Rome’s new populist government took office and shut its ports to all humanitarian boats.

It called them a “taxi service” and accused the charities who ran them of helping people smugglers, with far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini tweeting: “It can go where it wants, not in Italy!”

It was eventually allowed to dock, along with its 630 migrants on board, in the Spanish city of Valencia.

However the Spanish government does not appear willing at the moment to permit the same thing to happen again.

Ms Ernst added: "The issue of search and rescue and disembarkation is a question that falls under international law and a matter for national authorities, the Commission has no competence or role to play when it comes to disembarkation and cannot assess individual cases.

"While the duty to rescue is clear, there is nothing in the international legal regime as to the responsibility of the flag state for the disembarkation of the rescued persons."