Migrants have hijacked a merchant ship that rescued them in the Mediterranean, the Italian government has said.
Matteo Salvini, the country’s hardline interior minister, has condemned the migrants as “pirates”.
According to the Italian interior minister, a merchant ship named as the Elhiblu rescued the migrants from a sinking boat north of Libya and intended to take them back there.
The vessel was six nautical miles from the port of Tripoli when the migrants reportedly forced the crew to turn around and start sailing north.
The vessel is now believed to be heading towards either Malta or the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, south of Sicily.
“They are not shipwrecked migrants but pirates,” Mr Salvini said.
He said they would not be allowed to land on Italian soil.
"They should know that they will only see Italy with a telescope", said the minister, who is head of the anti-immigration League party.
Asylum seekers are terrified of being sent back to Libya because of the inhuman treatment they are subjected to in detention centres, some of them run by trafficking gangs.
Since coming to power last summer, Italy’s coalition government has closed the country’s ports to rescued migrants, with Mr Salvini the most vocal exponent of the policy.