The Malta Independent 24 September 2018, Monday

Rescue NGO acquires new ship, finds way to circumvent Malta ban

Neil Camilleri Saturday, 18 August 2018, 09:30 Last update: about 2 months ago

A migrant rescue NGO whose vessel has been impounded in Malta for almost two months has found a way to circumvent the ban after it acquired a new ship.

Mission Lifeline tweeted yesterday that, due to the “unlawful obstruction” by EU member states, it could only give details about its new ship after the vessel reaches international waters.

The MV Lifeline, with 234 migrants on board, was allowed to enter the Grand Harbour on 27 June, after spending a number of days stranded at sea. The vessel was allowed to dock after Malta and a number of EU states reached an agreement on how to share the rescued migrants. However, the Maltese government impounded the Lifeline and two other rescue ships (operated by two separate NGOs - Sea Watch, and Sea Eye), and said no private rescue vessel would be allowed in and out of the port until an investigation determined whether any international laws were being breached.

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Sources told The Malta Independent last week that there was no sign that the ban would be lifted any time soon. The captain of the Lifeline is currently undergoing criminal proceedings in Malta, where he faces charges related to the irregular registration of the vessel. He was recently allowed to travel to his native Germany to visit his sick mother.

On Wednesday, the Maltese government allowed another NGO vessel – the Aquarius – to land 141 migrants in Malta after another sharing agreement was reached with six EU states. Malta will not take any migrants from this group but will keep another 60 from another group of 114 saved by the AFM last week. Another boat carrying 35 migrants was also brought to Malta this week.

Unlike other NGO vessels, the Aquarius was allowed to leave.

Contacted yesterday, a government spokesperson explained that in the case of the Aquarius, “All the relevant certificates to trade as a sea going vessel were in order in accordance to international conventions. Furthermore, in the case of the Aquarius, the necessary action is being taken by the Flag Administration.”

As far as the blockade of other NGO ships is concerned, the spokesperson explained that investigations into their certifications, registrations and related matters are still ongoing and “there are ongoing exchanges between the relevant competent authorities concerning the certification of certain vessels for the intended use.”

Another NGO whose vessel is impounded in Malta, the Sea Watch, welcomed the decision to allow the Aquarius to leave, but said the “politically motivated” blockade of rescue vessels was endangering human lives.

Sea Watch said it had been prevented from sailing for 51 days, despite the fact that all conditions of the flag state are fulfilled and the necessary registrations are available.

“Sea-Watch remains concerned about the systematic crackdown on the civil rescue fleet as a whole. Even if all rescue NGOs were operational, a scenario that currently seems unlikely, search and rescue capacity would remain at an alarming low due to the withdrawal of European naval missions and Italian refusal of responsibility in maritime rescue coordination in the area.”

To date, the Maltese authorities have not informed Sea-Watch of the requirements that must be met before they can leave port.

Pia Klemp, captain of Sea-Watch 3: “The Maltese government is inventing nebulous conditions that are not covered by any international law or regulation from the flag state that has already given the green light. While the civil rescue at sea is confronted with absurd accusations, the Maltese Government, with the backing of the European Union, is not concerned about law and order. This is a political campaign at the expense of people in distress.”

At least 261 people have already lost their lives in the Mediterranean during the blockade of civilian rescue ships, and the number of unreported cases is likely to be significantly higher, the NGO said.

 

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