The Maltese government has stopped a humanitarian search and rescue flight from Malta.

The NGO Sea Watch said on Wednesday that the civil search aircraft Moonbird has been blocked from operations.

The government confirmed that this was the case.

The aircraft is operated by Sea Watch and the Swiss Humanitarian Pilots Initiative and is supported by the Evangelische Kirche in Germany.

“From now on no search flights in the search area north of the Libyan coast are possible anymore,” Sea Watch said.

The aircraft has been involved in the rescue of 20,000 people.

More than 1,000 would have drowned if the Moonbird-crew did not spot their sinking boats in the last second,” it said.

After allowing the charity ship Lifeline to dock at Malta following a spat with Italy, Malta closed its ports to ships carrying migrants that are operated by NGOs. The move has been denounced by humanitarian organisations and also the Church.

The ship’s captain, Claus-Peter Reisch, was on Monday charged in court with sailing into Maltese waters without the necessary registration and licence. 

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