The Malta Independent 25 May 2024, Saturday
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Updated: AFM says ‘no rescue was requested’ from boat with 400 migrants on board

Marc Galdes Tuesday, 11 April 2023, 11:44 Last update: about 2 years ago

No rescue was requested from a ship carrying 400 migrants, the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) has said.

"Written communication received by the AFM from the ship captain providing duty of care confirms that no rescue was requested by the people on board," the AFM told The Malta Independent.

Rescue hotline NGO Alarm Phone said it received a call from a vessel in distress which had around 400 migrants aboard in Malta's Search and Rescue Zone on Easter Sunday. It said that the vessel departed from Tobruk, Libya. Sea-Watch also reported on the boat and said that it "is struggling with 1.5m waves."

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Sea-Watch claimed that two merchant vessels were ordered by Malta not to rescue the migrant boat, and one of the vessels was asked "to only supply the boat with fuel." Sea-Watch added that a merchant vessel supplied fuel and water to the migrant boat but it did not rescue them "following orders from Malta."

"Why only fuel instead of rescuing? If the boat keeps moving, it might reach Italy & Malta does not have to accept the people. Malta rather takes the enormous risk of 400 people dying than care for these people themselves - migration policy in the EU," Sea-Watch posted.

The Malta Independent got in contact with the Home Affairs Ministry and the AFM and asked whether these claims were true and what the response from Malta's Rescue Coordination Centre was.

The AFM responded on Tuesday, carbon copying in the Home Affairs Ministry. "The Armed Forces of Malta fulfil their obligations and carry out coordination in accordance with the applicable international laws and conventions, including its duty of care towards vessels sailing in international waters within Malta’s Search and Rescue Region (SRR). Reports concerning migrants in Malta’s SRR are followed up immediately, and vessels which are not in distress are monitored accordingly. Moreover, written communication received by the AFM from the ship captain providing duty of care confirms that no rescue was requested by the people on board," the AFM said.

Alarm Phone, in a Tweet about the vessel, said on Monday that the Italian Coastguard set out to rescue the migrants with the vessel Diciotti. When Alarm Phone spoke to the migrants on board at 8.03am on Tuesday, they said that they were "running out of fuel," but they confirmed that the Italian coastguard and a merchant vessel were near them.

At 10.56am Alarm Phone spoke to migrants on the boat again, which seems to be off the coast of Syracuse, and they said that despite the "rescue assets, which are escorting them, the situation on board is dramatic. "They report several medical emergencies, water filling the vessel and no fuel left," Alarm Phone said. 

This has not been the only instance of boats in distress in the Mediterranean over recent days. Sea-Watch said that Easter Sunday was not a quiet time as it spotted 19 boats in distress in the Mediterranean from its reconnaissance aircraft.

Also, on Easter Sunday nearly 1,000 migrants landed in Lampedusa, Sicily. There were a total of 26 boats carrying 974 migrants, Italian media reported.

The migrants told Italian authorities that they had left from Zarzis, Chebba, Jebiniana and Kerkenna in Tunisia and that they had each paid $4,000.

NGO ResQship, with its boat Nadir, rescued 22 persons and lifted two dead bodies out of the water, it said on its Twitter feed. It said another 23 are believed to have died in the "European cemetery which we call Mediterranean".

NGO accuses the AFM of “lying”

In reaction, Alarm Phone condemned the AFM for “lying and denying responsibility!”

Alarm Phone said that since it was first alerted about the boat in distress on Saturday, it sent “21 emails to Malta requesting a rescue operation.”

“We also called and asked for rescue, only to be hung up on. Shame on @armed_forces_malta for lying and denying responsibility!”

“Written communication received by the AFM from the ship captain providing duty of care confirms that no rescue was requested by the people on board,” a spokesperson said.

Sea-Watch, in comments following the AFM's answers, said: “While everyone can clearly see on pictures that this boat clearly matches the criteria of a distress case, Malta denied sending its own assets, waiting for Italy to possibly intervene - while at the same time ordering the captain of the merchant vessel to not engage and await further instructions while being on stand-by. That’s nothing but Malta shying away from the legal responsibility for its search and rescue zone, risking the lives of the people in distress.”


Photo: Sea-Watch

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