ROME — Spain’s maritime rescue service said Sunday it rescued more than 400 people from 15 small boats, most of them off the country’s southern coast, while humanitarian groups lamented that the sole private rescue boat operating near the deadly central Mediterranean human trafficking route risked being put out of action by Italy’s anti-migrant leaders.

While the Spaniards pulled 447 people to safety Saturday in the western part of the sea, two humanitarian groups which operate the last private rescue vessel in the central Mediterranean, considered the deadliest route for trafficked migrants, said Panama had yanked the ship’s registration following Italian complaints.

Panama’s maritime authority said in a statement that it has begun procedures to remove the registration of Aquarius 2 after Italy complained the boat’s captain failed to follow orders. It said Italy contends that the captain of Aquarius 2 defied instructions to return migrants to Libya that it had rescued from unseaworthy vessels launched by Libyan-based traffickers.

But SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders, the humanitarian groups jointly operating Aquarius 2, say violence-wracked Libya doesn’t meet international standards for safe harbor. On Sunday, they asked European governments to reassure Panama that Italy’s contentions are unfounded or issue a new flag so Aquarius 2 can keep operating.

Right-wing Interior Minister Matteo Salvini won’t let private rescue boats dock in Italy.

In a statement Sunday, the two non-governmental organizations alleged that Italy had forced the Panamanians to revoke the registration “under blatant economic and political pressure from the Italian government,” which has vowed to stop arrivals in Italian ports of migrants saved by private rescue boats.

Italy’s right-wing, anti-migrant interior minister, Matteo Salvini, denied that allegation in a tweet Sunday night, saying “no pressure at all on Panama for the Aquarius 2. I don’t even know Panama’s area code.”

Nearly 300 migrants have died in waters separating Spain and Africa so far in 2018, according to the United Nations, and over 1,600 have died this year trying to cross the Mediterranean, as departures in smugglers’ boats from Libya’s coast to Italy have sharply declined this year compared to previous years, after the Italian authorities began cracking down on the rescue boats.

A recent spike in migrant arrivals in Spain has strained public services, and the Spanish government has faced further pressure since Italy refused to let humanitarian boats dock with migrants.

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