The Malta Independent 19 August 2019, Monday

‘Migrants' search and rescue took place outside operational waters’ - Frontex

Julian Bonnici Monday, 11 June 2018, 14:51 Last update: about 2 years ago

Frontex, the EU’s Border and Coast Guard Agency, will not intervene in the current diplomatic stand-off between Malta and Italy over the 629 migrants stranded on a ship, telling The Malta Independent that the Search and Rescue operation took place outside of the operational area of Frontex-coordinated Operation Themis.

The migrants were rescued in an operation coordinated by Rome Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) within Libyan territorial waters, in an area that is closer to Tunis and Lampedusa than it is to Malta.

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The agency was sent questions to assess whether any of the countries were violating their obligations to Frontex or any other international agreements, and at which port should the migrants disembark. The newsroom also asked the agency itself if it will look to intervene, and whether the failure to find a successful resolution would mean the return of the migrants to Libya.

However, the agency passed the buck to other counterparts within other organisations, and did not reply to any of these questions.

Given that Italy’s decision to close their ports was the first strong-man move from anti-immigration Home Affairs Minister and Leader of the League (LEGA), one of the two parties of the ruling coalition, and the murky waters surrounding international obligations, it would appear that the stalemate may continue.

What is Operation Themis?

Operation Themis, which replaced Operation Triton was put in effect earlier this year, meaning that Italy was no longer obliged to take all migrants rescued from the Mediterranean Sea. Frontex-rescued migrants must now be delivered to the nearest EU port rather than to only Italian ports.

Themis’ operational area will span the Central Mediterranean Sea from waters covering flows from Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Turkey and Albania.

Italy's southern Adriatic coast has been included, but vessels' typical operational area will be reduced from 30 nautical miles (55.6 kilometres) from the Italian coast to 24 miles (44.5 kilometres).

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