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Thousands rally in France to support Aquarius migrant aid ship

SOS Mediterranee, a charity operating the Aquarius, the last migrant rescue ship in the Mediterranean sea, calls for protests and a Europe-wide mobilisation to help them regain a flag to resume their rescue operations, in Marseille, France, October 6, 2018 REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

Thousands of people, many wearing orange to evoke life vests, demonstrated Saturdayacross France to back a private humanitarian ship that rescues migrants who are making the dangerous voyage to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea.

In Paris,demonstrators at the Place de la Republique carried signs reading "Saving lives: A duty not a crime," ''Save the Aquarius," and other slogans backing the ship.

Placard-waving supporters of the Aquarius also gathered in the southern port city of Marseille and in the northern city of Lille.

The Aquarius' operator, SOS Mediterranee, is urging European governments to find a new flag for the ship after Panama's maritime authority removed its registration. The aid group says without a flag, the ship will have to stay in port.

Migrant sea arrivals to Europe are sharply down this year but the issue of immigration is still a hot political topic across the continent.

The International Organization for Migration says that 1,741 migrants have drowned at sea this year trying to cross the Mediterranean.