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Rescue plane stopped from flying two months before being officially grounded

Red tape kept Sea-Watch plane grounded since May

The Sea-Watch Moonbird

The Sea-Watch Moonbird

Migrants rescue aircraft Moonbird has not been allowed to fly since the end of May, despite the authorities only formally blocking its operations two months later.

According to representatives of Sea-Watch, the German sea rescue NGO, the Moonbird flew for the last time on May 25, with the Maltese authorities starting a revision process of the aircraft’s status immediately afterwards.

The government had confirmed it had blocked operations in July but it was never officially announced that the plane had been grounded in May.

The Maltese authorities, the representatives said, were asking for “more and more documents” about the plane and its mission before ruling in July that the Moonbird would no longer be allowed to carry out search and rescue operations from Malta.

The aircraft had been involved in the rescue of almost 20,000 people, the NGO said.

Those who speak of human rights, should act as well

The aircraft could now only fly if it was asked to by State authorities, the representatives added.

Maltese ports have also been closed to NGO ships carrying migrants, with the government saying in June the measure would remain in place “pending reviews and current investigations”.

In a statement, the NGO lambasted Prime Minister Joseph Muscat for a series of “hypocritical” tweets expressing concern about the situation in Libya while still blocking migrant rescues by confiscating vessels and aircraft belonging to NGOs.

“While diplomats are evacuated by sea, thousands fleeing war and violence are deserted by the European Union again. Those who speak of human rights, should act as well,” Sea-Watch member Johannes Bayer said in the statement

“One cannot turn a blind eye and pretend it is not happening more actively than [what Joseph] Muscat is [doing] right now. Dr Muscat should save his hypocritical Tweets when he is not ready to act accordingly,” he added.

Questions sent to the Office of the Prime Minister on the matter were not answered by the time of writing.

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