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Impounded migrant rescue ships still awaiting answers

Authorities ignore questions as NGOs slam 'tactic to stall us'

The MV Lifeline disembarking rescued migrants at Senglea last month. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The MV Lifeline disembarking rescued migrants at Senglea last month. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

A month after Malta closed its harbours to migrant rescue vessels, ships stuck in harbour have still had no word from the authorities as to when and if they will be allowed to set sail.

Three ships were impounded on June 29, including the MV Lifeline, which two days earlier had entered Malta with 233 migrants on board after having been stranded at sea for six days until a diplomatic solution was reached to allow it to berth.

The other two ships are the Seefuchs, which, like the Lifeline, is facing questions over its registration, and the Sea Watch 3. The NGO Sea Watch, which operates the vessel, also runs the search plane Moonbird, which has similarly been grounded.

“For our reconnaissance airplane, according to a letter by the Maltese authorities, the fact that we do search and rescue was enough reason to ground us,” a Sea Watch spokeswoman told the Times of Malta.

“There are no serious grounds for our ship to be detained. The port authorities only told us that our registration is being reviewed and until now we haven’t heard about any results. For all the last years, there have been no problems, so the reason is obviously only a tactic to stall us.”

For all the last years, there have been no problems, so the reason is obviously only a tactic to stall us

A spokesman for the NGO Sea Eye, which operates the Seefuchs, also said they had no update on the ship’s situation while alleged irregularities in its registration are reviewed.

The captain of the MV Lifeline is facing charges in court of steering an unregistered vessel, which the authorities say was only registered as a pleasure yacht, and sailing in international waters without a flag state.

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The Home Affairs Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to questions regarding what progress had been made on the investigations and when the measures against the three vessels might be lifted.

The government said previously: “Malta needs to ascertain that operations being conducted by entities using its port services and operating within the area of Maltese responsibility are in accordance to national and international rules”.

It also said the measures would remain in place “pending reviews and current investigation”.

The move to close Malta’s ports – following a similar decision made by Italy – was denounced by humanitarian organisations, which say that, without rescue vessels patrolling the waters, migrants will be left to die or be returned to face inhuman conditions in Libyan detention camps.

According to figures from the International Organization on Migration, 210 people died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in July, after another 629 had perished in June.

Last week, the European Commission offered to shoulder the cost of taking in migrants from boats in the Mediterranean, paying out €6,000 for each migrant and funding hundreds of expert personnel to help process the mostly African migrants seeking asylum in Europe.

Italy has denounced the offer as far too little, though it agreed to open its ports to the EU’s naval rescue operation Sophia for the next five weeks until EU talks can come up with a new solution.

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