The Malta Independent 19 August 2019, Monday

Updated: Malta to allow MV Lifeline into Maltese port, vessel to be impounded – PM

Wednesday, 27 June 2018, 13:04 Last update: about 2 years ago

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that Malta will be allowing the MV Lifeline to enter one of its harbours after an agreement was reached between eight nations who will take in the migrants on board.

Addressing a press conference in Castille, Muscat said that upon arrival, the migrants will be vetted and those who have reasons to be granted asylum will be given such, while others will be returned to their country of origin.

Muscat said that this is an ad hoc agreement valid only for this particular case. The efforts made by Malta are of humanitarian nature and without prejudice to Malta’s position at international law.

The Lifeline, carrying 234 migrants, will be arriving this evening at around 6.

Muscat said that the countries participating in this exercise are France, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Malta. Muscat did not say how many migrants each of the eight member states had accepted to take in, saying that could only be established once passengers were screened, given a chance to apply for asylum and their status determined.

He said that when the situation developed a few days ago, he had immediately embarked on a diplomatic exercise to find a solution before the matter escalated into a humanitarian crisis. Malta abided by international rules from start to finish, and only accepted to allow the ship inside its ports after there was an agreement with other countries. 

The Prime Minister said that despite Malta having no legal obligation or responsibility in this matter and despite the fact that events took place in the Libyan SRR between Libya and Lampedusa - where it was neither the competent nor the coordinating authority - the Maltese government took the lead to seek a two-facet solution before the situation escalated to a humanitarian crisis. 

The first was to distribute the persons on board among the member states participating in this ad hoc initiative. The second is the impounding of the vessel pending an investigation into the actions of MV Lifeline including its inadequate registration, given that the Dutch authorities have formally refuted the fact that the vessel is registered under their flag, and the decision to switch off its transponder at various times. The MV Lifeline will be detained pending the necessary investigations according to national and international rules. The situation has been caused, the PM said, by a decision of the captain of the said vessel who went against international rules and ignored directions being given by the Italian authorities who were coordinating the rescue.

Once the MV Lifeline berths - and it will be doing so in Senglea - procedures will start for identification and ascertaining of eligibility. The migrants who qualify for asylum will be distributed in other member states, an exercise that will start immediately together with the granting of the necessary medical attention.

Genuine asylum seekers will be afforded protection as established in the different member states while procedures will start immediately to return those who do not qualify for such protection, after due process and in accordance with European and international rules. European institutions will assist in these returns.

He said Malta was always in line with international law and it had sent supplies to the vessel three times over the past days.

“It might seem like ‘yet another vessel’ to people, but this was a very, very unique case,” Muscat said. “This is not an issue between member states.”

Muscat said that he had also ordered an investigation into Mission Lifeline, the NGO running the MV Lifeline, which has spent the past six days stranded at sea. The vessel will be impounded.

Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has said that this is another victory for Italy.




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