The Malta Independent 4 August 2020, Tuesday

Migration: 52 migrants in distress in Maltese waters

Karl Azzopardi Friday, 3 July 2020, 13:20 Last update: about 1 month ago

Migration NGO Alarm Phone reported that it detected a migrant vessel with a faulty engine in Malta's Search and Rescue (SAR) zone leaving around 52 migrants on board in distress. Contact with the Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) was deemed to be futile as the only reply the NGO received from the centre was "we don't speak with NGOs".

On Friday morning, the NGO put up a post on its Twitter page saying that it has detected a migrant vessel during the night in Malta's SAR zone with around 52 migrants on top. 


It explained that the migrants had escaped Libya and have been at sea for two days without food and water while battling rough seas.

The post also explained that the boat's engine stopped working, leaving it to drift without the migrants on board being able to control it.

Alarm Phone said that it contacted the authorities immediately but did not specify if they will be receiving help.

The only help it reported comes from another migrant NGO Sea-Watch International which spotted the boat in distress from the sky with its aircraft Seabird. Sea-Watch International is in contact with a merchant vessel, TALIA, which has confirmed that it will help with the rescue. However, the merchant vessel is having trouble contacting the RRC in Malta due to technical issues.

Alarm Phone has also tried to get in contact with RCC Malta, however it reported that the centre "refuses to take info on migrant boats in distress in Malta SAR zone. Just now they said 'We don't speak with NGOs' and hung up. This is not the first time - it has become standard practice.

This week, Alarm Phone has already reported another boat in distress in Malta's SAR zone. On Wednesday, it was informed that a boat with 49 people on board was also in Maltese waters.

After losing contact with the vessel and not hearing back from either Maltese or Italian authorities, the NGO feared that the migrants were abandoned at sea. Thankfully, on Thursday it was informed by relatives of those on board that they have disembarked in Lampedusa.

On top of these boats in distress, aid group SOS Mediterranee has reported that it has rescued 180 migrants over the past five days who were left at sea within the Mediterranean and are now on board of its ship Ocean Viking.

It is currently waiting for a port to disembark but five requests to Italian and Maltese port authorities have gone unanswered.

The aid group has insisted that the situation is extremely urgent now since there are migrants who have been on board the ship for almost a week which has caused a lot of mental distress to the point  that some have attempted suicide.

"Many of the survivors are in acute mental distress, expressing the intent to inflict harm on themselves. One man attempted suicide today," SOS Mediterranee's latest post read. "The safety of survivors & crew are under threat. We need a Place of Safety now."


Malta had closed its ports during the Public State of Emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving a number of migrants on board of tourist ships that were chartered to rescues migrants without allowing them to disembark.

In June, the government brought these migrants in after being five weeks at sea after they threatened to blow up the ships if they were not allowed to disembark. This decision was praised by the EU Council, which had insisted the ships should be allowed inside Maltese ports, yet, the government made it clear that Malta cannot be left to deal with this influx alone.

Since then, the European Commission confirmed that four EU member states - Germany, France, Luxembourg and Portugal - have offered a helping hand in relocating the recently disembarked migrants.



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