Italy has banned a migrant boat containing three heavily pregnant women from entering its waters.
It is the latest move by the country whose far-right interior minister has ordered a crack-down on rescue ships.
The Italian charity Mediterranea rescued dozens of people including pregnant women and four children off the coast of Libya on Thursday.
However, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini vowed not to let them disembark off Lampedusa island.
The group, many of whom will have fled war zones, have now spent the last day in international waters off the Mediterranean.
Salvini, who leads the powerful right-wing League party in the ruling coalition, has lashed out at the boat operators calling them disobedient, violent and pirate.
On Friday, Malta stepped forward to help calm the brewing standoff and offered to take 55 people into its care.
In return, Italy has also agreed to take 55 other migrants.
The Maltese government said: It was decided that Malta will transfer 55 migrants… on board the ship Alex onto a ship of the armed forces of Malta.
In return, Italy will take 55 (other) migrants from Malta (as) part of an initiative that promotes a European spirit of cooperation and good will between Malta and Italy.
Salvini has seen his popularity soar with his hard line stance and ships have been repeatedly refused entry.
Last week the authorities on Lampedusa seized a vessel belonging to German aid group Sea-Watch.
They also arrested its captain Carola Rackete for unauthorised entry to port with dozens of rescued migrants on board.
Carola, 31, entered the Italian port on a ship with 40 migrants after defying warnings by the local government not to.
Fellow female German captain Pia Klemp faces 20 years in jail after helping rescue at least 1,000 migrants over the years.
Salvini has accused her of people smuggling but Klemp says she has only followed international law in rescuing stricken people.
Italy has been operating a tougher policy over the last year, claiming it is bearing the brunt of illegal immigration intoRead More – Source