Malta has confirmed its refusal to receive, as requested by Italy, an NGO vessel carrying more than 600 migrants collected in the Mediterranean. The ship of SOS Mediterranean is for the moment blocked between Malta and Sicily.
Rome and Valletta both refuse to host Aquarius , an NGO ship that has collected more than 600 migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat spoke on the phone about this with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and said “that Malta is acting in full compliance with its international obligations,” according to a statement from the Maltese government. “Malta will not receive the vessel in question at its ports,” the statement said.
Malta reacted to the request made on 10 June by the Italian government in a joint statement by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and Minister of Infrastructure and Transport Danilo Toninelli, responsible for the surveillance of the Italian coast.
Malta, the statement said, “can not continue to look elsewhere when it comes to respecting specific international conventions on the protection of human life”. “That is why we are asking the Valletta government to receive the Aquarius to provide first aid to the migrants on board.”
The Aquarius had collected 629 migrants during six separate operations on the night of 10 to 11 June. The NGO said that among these migrants were 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 young children and seven pregnant women.
A ship stuck between Malta and Sicily
The ship was on the night of 10 to 11 between Malta and Sicily and was waiting to be able to disembark the migrants in a port. According to a tweet from SOS Méditerranée France, “The Aquarius was instructed by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (IMRCC) to remain on stand-by at its current position, 35 nautical miles from Italy and 27 nautical miles. Malta “.
A Maltese spokesman told AFP on June 10 that the rescue operations carried out by Aquarius had taken place in the Libyan search and rescue zone and depended on the Rome relief coordination center.
This meant, in his view, that Malta had no obligation to take care of these migrants.
The head of the Italian government, Giuseppe Conte, announced that Italy had sent to the ship two patrol boats with doctors on board “ready to intervene and protect the health of any person on board the Aquarius who could need it.
Earlier on June 10, Matteo Salvini threatened according to Italian media to close Italian ports to ships that collect migrants if Malta did not agree to receive Aquarius. Italy has seen some 700,000 illegal migrants land on its shores since 2013.
The dispute between Malta and Italy began on 8 June, when Matteo Salvini accused the Maltese government of failing to play its role in helping and receiving migrants.