Muscat ‘would take same decision’ in repeat Salamis incident
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat reiterates decision to block access to tanker carrying migrants was legal, claims humanitarian obligations were fulfilled.
8 August 2013, 10:00am
Speaking on ONE TV this evening, Muscat reiterated the tanker's captain had ignored his international obligations when he chose to sail towards Malta instead of turning back to Libya which had been the nearest safest port.
"Do you expect a sovereign state to pay for someone else's wrongdoing? We have in writing that the captain ignored specific orders. My position was clear from the beginning: Malta is not a doormat and immediately ordered for access [to Maltese waters] be blocked," Muscat told journalist Aleander Balzan.
According to the government, the Libyan port of Khoms could be treated as safe since the ship had just sailed from there. The Salamis incident saw the tanker rescuing 102 migrants but instead of turning to the port - like the Italian authorities had instructed - the tanker continued sailing towards Malta.
Carrying oil, the tanker's first destination had always been Malta.
Muscat insisted the captain's decision to come to Malta was "not based on humanitarian reasons but on commercial one".
The migrants remained on board the tanker for two days until on Tuesday night Italy accepted to take in the tanker and allow the migrants to disembark.
Muscat insisted that Malta fulfilled its humanitarian obligations when it provided the migrants with the food and water supply requested by the crew and allowing AFM medics to board the tanker and examine the migrants.
"All were found to be in good medical condition. There was only woman who injured her finger during the evacuation from the dinghy but was kept inside the tanker's clinic. We did satisfy our humanitarian obligation and saw that no lives were at risk... But we also have our national interest to defend," he added.
Local and international human rights NGOs criticised government's stance and had repeatedly called on government to allow the migrants to disembark. According to Muscat, allowing the tanker to enter Maltese territorial waters would have created "a precedent".
"Giving in to the tanker's demands would have created a precedent... not only for us as a government but also for Malta. It is a point of principle: when the migrants were rescued, Malta was not the safest nearest port. It's not about how many migrants the tanker was carrying but about a principle which the captain ignored. Allowing him access would have led to the collapse of the whole search and rescue system."
Muscat insisted that NGOs and the media "could criticise me all they want but my position is what it is... I will not allow Malta to be treated as a doormat".
Turning to the barrage of comments posted on European Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom's Facebook page, Muscat disassociated himself from the comments adding that the offensive comments did little to help Malta.
"Why offend others when we have a solid case? Usually people offend others because they'd have no argument. But we do," he said, "expressing" worry that abusive comments posted may be used by "others" against Malta.
The Prime Minister said no one had disputed Malta's legality on this issue and said he "appreciated" Malmstrom was concerned. "She was doing her job. But she didn't offer a solution either," he said, adding that he felt "comforted" that Malta and Italy were on the same wavelength.
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