The Malta Independent 8 August 2020, Saturday

TMID Editorial: AFM migrant operations - Silence is not always golden

Saturday, 23 May 2020, 08:18 Last update: about 4 months ago

Silence is golden, the saying goes, but this is not always the case, especially when you are being accused of involuntary homicide, or of endangering the lives of people at sea.

We are referring to the strategy adopted as of late by the Armed Forces of Malta, despite the very serious allegations levelled against them, which have even led to the opening of a criminal investigation against some of its members.


When the crew of the P52 patrol boat was accused of “intentionally sabotaging” a migrant dinghy’s engine last month, the AFM remained silent, with sources saying that the army would not engage in a “tit-for-tat” with the migrant NGO behind these claims.

A criminal complaint was filed, and a magisterial inquiry was launched. Prime Minister Robert Abela decried the move, saying that the inquiry was wasting precious time for the affected soldiers.

It later emerged that the act of ‘sabotage’ was actually part of the procedure followed during rescues at sea, with the crew of the patrol boat engaging the dinghy’s engine’s kill-switch to render it safe. But by then, the damage had already been done, and the reports that the AFM ‘destroyed’ the engine had already gone around the globe.

Even then, the AFM remained silent and the very important fact that these same migrants were picked up and brought to Malta only emerged a few days later.

This week, fresh claims were levelled against the army’s maritime squadron, coupled with a mobile phone video that seems to show that an AFM vessel was manoeuvred dangerously close to people in the water.

Once again, there has been no immediate response from the army. Once again, the deafening silence is only strengthening the impression of wrongdoing – that there is something to hide.

Some of the migrants in this particular case told Alarm Phone that they felt threatened because the soldiers had rifles slung across their shoulders. Some said that they were told that they had 30 minutes to leave the area, and that the boat was given fuel and instructions to sail to Italy.

Some of these claims cannot be verified and, given what happened in past cases, we must be careful of what to believe as some of these allegations could have come as a result of miscommunication or a lack of understanding of military maritime procedures.

But the fact is that the AFM are not doing themselves, or anyone else for that matter, a favour by failing to explain their actions and/or denying the allegations levelled against them.

Yet again, the claims made by the migrants when interviewed by members of the NGO accusing Malta of murder and threats have been picked up by major newspapers around the world. Yet the story out so far is somewhat one-sided – it lacks the AFM’s version of events. Why is this?

The Armed Forces of Malta has a duty to explain their actions as well as the policies they have been instructed to adopt. Allegations of murder cannot go unanswered. And any suspicions of wrongdoing must be investigated.

If some of our soldiers have unnecessarily endangered lives, then they should answer for their actions. But if they have done nothing wrong and the issue is being spun for whatever reason, the army should come out and say so and stand up not only for the country’s reputation but also for that of its own members.

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