Manuel Mallia: blocking Salamis is ‘point of principle’ for Maltese government [VIDEO]

Home Affairs minister Manuel Mallia addresses press conference on Salamis crisis.

Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia with Brigadier Martin Xuereb (right)
Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia with Brigadier Martin Xuereb (right)

 

Jurgen Balzan and Miriam Dalli in Valletta.

An immovable home affairs minister Manuel Mallia today insisted that the stand-off over 102 migrants saved on Monday morning by the crew of the Greek-owned tanker M/T Salamis was not a case of "illegal immigration but search and rescue."

"We are trying to resolve the situation but the Maltese government's position is very clear, that ship will not enter Maltese territory," an unwavering Mallia said.

The vessel is stranded 24 miles outside Maltese waters, with the government firmly blocking access to Maltese territorial waters and the ship so far refusing to head back to Libya as instructed by the Italian and Maltese governments.

"The shipmaster violated international law and did not give a toss about the orders he received from a sovereign state," Mallia said.

Asked by MaltaToday whether the government was putting legal correctness above a potential humanitarian emergency, Mallia said: "We must make a distinction. This is not about irregular migration. This is about search and rescue in an area close to Libya and international law makes it clear that when somebody is rescued at sea, the persons must be taken to the safest point, which in this case was Libya from where the ship departed only an hour earlier. For what appear to be commercial reasons the ship's Captain disregarded international law and calls by two sovereign states and did as he liked. This is a matter of principle. We cannot allow this exception to happen because this isolated case could become the rule."

Mallia argued that Malta does not carry any responsibility to give the rescued migrants safe harbour since "they are in good health" and Malta had no intention of harbouring a ship which violated international law.

He explained that following the rescue operation; the closest safe port for the MT Salamis was Libya and not Malta. "But for commercial reasons, the ship ignored everything else and sailed towards Malta," Mallia said.

Asked whether Libya was a safe port for the migrants rescued at sea, Mallia said: "Libya is a safe place because the migrants had just left from Libya so they must have felt safe there because they lived in Libya."

He added that another ship, a Turkish-owned vessel, had rescued a number of migrants on the same day and returned the migrants to Libya safely.

Pressed what guarantees he had over the migrants' safety, Mallia said: "I do not have any reports that say that they are unsafe or that something happened to them." LIVE BLOG of press conference

17:36 The Maltese government has also filed a judicial protest against the shipping agent.

17:33 Jurgen Balzan has asked Mallia whether Malta is also obliged to give the rescued migrants safe harbour, but the minister insists the migrants are not in a bad medical condition and that the matter is a question of search and rescue, which means it was the shipmaster's responsibility to return back to Libya in the first place.

17:32 MaltaToday asks whether Malta would blockade harbour access to the Salammis: Mallia does not deny this option. "Such physical measures are not necessary the ones that will be taken in this case. The boat is currently in international waters."

17:31 Manuel Mallia: "We cannot sit pretty in the face of this illegality... if a ship keeps on challenging [international] law, we will have to respond to this."

17:19 Manuel Mallia says this is not a case of "illegal immigration but search and rescue", insisting that the Salamis had to immediately take the rescued migrants to the nearest port, which was Libya. "The shipmaster ignored guidance from RCC because of commercial interests. This is a matter of principle for us, because if we allow this to take place it will create a dangerous precedent for us. There is no emergency: these people were rescued, they are in a good state, and they were waving at the AFM helicopter as it descended."

17:17 "When I informed Ms Malmström of certain facts, it seems she was not aware of the entire picture" - Mallia says of his conversation with the EU Commissioner earlier today, after having issued her statement urging Malta to recieve the asylum seekers.

17:12 "There is no doubt that Malta is legally correct... we have documented evidence from the maritime rescue coordination centre of Rome [showing that the Salamis ignored guidance to head back to Libya]" - Manuel Mallia. The minister has also held discussions this afternoon with Commissioner Malmström. "This shipmaster has breached international law and breached directions from the Rome RCC."

17:11 Life jackets, water and food supplies have been delivered to the migrants aboard the Salamis.

17:09 The AFM's crewmen from the P 52 patrol boat, which is monitoring the movements of the tanker, boarded the ship to inspect the condition of a pregnant woman.

17:07 At 4pm on Monday 5 August, the Salamis captain said he would hold the Maltese RCC responsible for the consequences that would follow aboard the tanker as the health situation of the migrants deteriorated. The proprietors of the Salamis wrote to the Maltese government, and the Italian RCC as well as European Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, with their version of the story.

17:03 The ship master is alleged to have decided to forge ahead on the Salamis's roue to Malta, to arrive at 7am on Tuesday morning. He was informed on Tuesday, 2am that he would not be granted access to Maltese territorial waters.

16:59 The shipmaster of the Salamis is alleged to have decided to forge ahead in its intended route to Malta, where it was to deliver a gasoil shipment, against the orders of the Malta RCC.

16:55 Minister Manuel Mallia is recounting the events that unfolded since the rescue of the 102 migrants, explaining that the Italian RCC instructed the MT Salamis to head back to Libya as the nearest and safest port of call to terminate the rescue, and that the Malta RCC was in contact with the Salamis, as well as with the Italian RCC which confirmed that it had instructed the tanker to head back to Libya. "The captain said he would consult with the proprietors of the ship. While still at 50 nautical miles away from Libya, at 10pm the Armed Forces of Malta explained to the Salamis's shipping agent that the ship was obliged to return the migrants to Libya. The agent passed on these instructions to the shipmaster via email."

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proset Dr.Mallia. Hekk imissi tghidlek is sahhara tal bidnija u mela cucati.proset
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Thank God we have a strong Government that can decide for and on behalf of the absolutely vast majority of the Maltese who are now fed up with being treated as second rate citizens by the EU. Thank God we have a strong Manwel Mallia who stands by his word to protect us.
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Paul Sammut
This incident could be part of an audacious smuggling operation that went awrey. If we give in the smugglers will be shipping the immigrants by ship instead of by boat. Pregnant women and children are included in the shipment to put pressure on the country where they are landed.
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Mark Fenech
Well done Minister Mallia. We are a small country, but we would not allow others to dictate to us what is not according to International Laws. The ship should return to Libya first.
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The Maltese Government gives in to this and these illegal immigrants will be arriving on cruise ships. They started out arriving in groups of eight in flimsy boats, then they started arriving in hundreds on the large dingys whose motor stalled as soon as they spotted the AFM boats. Now lo and behold they are trying to arrive on tankers. This is a very well organized operation and there is no stop to it. Hotel Malta is full and cannot accept anymore unwanted guests. Maybe they should pass the word that there is all kinds of room in Sweden, the land of opportunity. But alas the Swedish Government don't want to accept any of the illegal immigrants coming out of Africa. If they are open to the idea Malta will be more than glad to send the ones we have here to accommodate them. How about it Commissioner Malmström? Again where do we find our Meps? Don't tell me they flew to the Bahamas to help these African illegal immigrants from there? I am also waiting for Simon Busuttil to make a public statement backing up our government on this.
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Minister Mallia, do not allow this principle to be bent.
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Malta should not budge on this matter. It is high time that we show the world, that although we are a Nation with a population of less than half a million, we are not prepared to be taken for rides even by the most mighty. It is a known fact that we always fought for our rights even when all seemed lost. This is the time to show that Malta is not any less than any of the other twenty seven member states of the European Union.
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as i see it even if we have the law on our side this time the maltese government will again have to bow to the eu technocrats in view of the human tragedy which might evolve. so are we hopeless against this situation...not at all...only a couple of weeks ago we could have hit the eu hard where it hurts most we could have held the bull by its horns ...or by its balls....but we opted to vote with the rest in branding hesbullah as a terrorist organisation........