Aquarius requests disembarkation of 11 people, most are 'traumatised'

AFM says it knows nothing of the situation

The MV Aquarius, and the 141 migrants aboard, disembarked in Malta in August

The MV Aquarius, and the 141 migrants aboard, disembarked in Malta in August

The MV Aquarius has requested a place of safety to disembark 11 people rescued from a boat off the coast of Libya on Thursday, potentially sparking another diplomatic spat between Malta and Italy over who should take them in.

The small white fiberglass boat was found in distress in international waters off the coast of Libya. The boat was overcrowded and slowly taking in water, with many of the survivors having been exposed to fuel.

The survivors are currently under medical care, with most of them being physically or mentally "deeply traumatised", the captain told the authorities. The vessel being used by the 11 migrants was "unseaworthy, without any life-saving appliance such as a lifejacket or liferaft".

The Aquarius said the Libyan coast guard requested to transfer the survivors to their vessel to take them to a Libyan port. But the NGO vessel retorted that Libyan ports do not conform to the definition of places of safety.

For this reason, the captain of the ship requested help with providing a place of safety for the disembarkation of the survivors of the boat.

"I consider this situation as a security threat for my crew, my ship and my survivors," the captain said.

When contacted, the Armed Forces of Malta said they were not informed of the situation.

According to the rescue vessel's logbook, the captain informed the Maltese authorities of the boat prior to the rescue taking place, noting that the situation had been assessed as "highly dangerous".

Speaking during an EU leaders summit in Austria on Thursday, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat called for formal rules of engagement for vessels rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean.

The Aquarius was at the centre of a political tiff between Italy and Malta when both refused entry for the vessel in August after a migrant rescue.

The ship - and the 141 migrants aboard - was eventually allowed in after the Maltese government said it had struck a deal with a number of countries to distribute the people on board.