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Malta, Libya 'to coordinate' on search and rescue

Malta and Libya have signed a memorandum of understanding on search and rescue, the Foreign Affairs Ministry announced yesterday evening.

The agreement provides that both countries coordinate and support each other for search and rescue operations within their respective search and rescue regions (SRRs), the ministry said in a brief statement.

Both sides also agreed to authorise their Rescue Coordination Centre to ask for assistance via the rescue centre of the other country and to provide all information on the distress situations in their respective Search and Rescue Region.

It is still unclear what this understanding will mean in practice and whether it will affect in any way the flow of immigrants to Malta. Efforts last night to contact the foreign and home affairs ministers for their interpretation were unsuccessful.

"The memorandum of understanding is inspired by the desire of Malta and Libya to further promote the friendly relations between them and the necessity of improving the safety of life at sea in the Mediterranean basin, conscious of the great importance of rendering assistance to persons in distress at and over the sea and also the establishment of adequate and effective arrangements for search and rescue services," the Foreign Ministry said.

The statement was pre-empted by a report revealing as much in the Italian news agency ANSA.

The North African state's failure to stem the departure of immigrants from its shores has been at the centre of this week's debate on immigration in Parliament.

The country, which is recognised universally as a critical node in the flow of illegal immigration to Europe, has been a particularly difficult nut to crack when compared with neighbouring Morocco, for instance, which has a repatriation agreement with Spain.

The Memorandum also provides for joint search and rescue training and exchange visits at the AFM's training facilities on top of scheduled periodic meetings.

Foreign Minister Tonio Borg last week discussed illegal immigration in Rome and said that should Libya and Italy start joint patrols in Libyan waters, as planned, Malta was prepared to offer the participation of AFM personnel. To date all anti-immigration patrols have only been held in international waters.

Dr Borg had also said that talks were expected to be held in the following days between Libyan ministers, Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici and himself.

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