Migrant vessel Lifeline could be allowed into Malta – reports

A spokesperson for the French government has said that a solution involving the migrants being transferred to Malta appeared to be shaping up • A Maltese government spokesperson said Malta would continue offering humanitarian aid but would not confirm that the vessel would enter Maltese ports

Migrants on the rescue vessel Lifeline, currently stranded in international waters, could be brought to Malta following talks between Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and French President Emmanuel Macron, according to media reports.

Quoting a French government spokesman, Reuters said on Tuesday that a solution had been broached in discussions between the two heads of government.

"A European solution may be to have the ship dock in Malta. It is the solution that seems to be shaping up at the moment," the spokesperson said, adding that France was prepared to send a team to Malta to study individual asylum requests.

However a spokesperson for the Maltese government has said that Malta would continue to offer humanitarian assistance but had not made any plans to allow the vessel to enter Malta.

The Lifeline has been stranded at sea for almost five days after both Italy and Malta refused it entry.

READ MORE: EU leaders willing to proceed with solutions on migration, Muscat says

Talks were underway on Saturday between Spain, Italy, France and Malta in order to resolve the dispute with sources telling MaltaToday that the migrants on board were likely to be split among the four countries.

The Armed Forces of Malta carried out a medical evacuation from the vessel in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The evacuation was requested by the Lifeline’s crew, with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat saying that Malta would continue to offer humanitarian support, despite the captain’s “irresponsible behavior”.  

Muscat has stressed over the past four days that the ship's crew had not followed instructions from the Italian and Libyan authorities when it began sailing towards Italy, after rescuing migrants from within the Libyan search and rescue territory.

“The rescue, which happened in the Libyan rescue zone, was being coordinated by the Italian authorities and later on by the Libyan authorities. The plan was for the rescue to take place by the Libyan coast guard – which the EU spends millions on, in terms of training and resources. But the boat did not following these instructions,” Muscat said on Saturday, adding that the next mistake was when Italy ordered the boat to sail towards Malta.

Despite being told to wait for the assistance of Libya's coast guard, the NGO decided to rescue them because had they not they would have been returned to Libya.

Meanwhile a Danish container ship with 106 migrants onboard was allowed to berth in the Sicilian harbour of Pozzallo, after a standoff which lasted four days.

READ MORE: Malta providing humanitarian supplies to Lifeline, diplomatic talks underway

The Alexander Maersk had remained off the coast of Pozzallo for days after taking part in a rescue of migrants leaving Libya on smugglers' boats on Thursday.

The Italian Interior Ministry confirmed it had given the go-ahead for the ship to berth in the harbour. It entered shortly after midnight, having been idle off Sicily awaiting instructions.

Pozzallo Mayor, Roberto Ammatuna, had offered to let the cargo ship dock, but the Italian government had refused to assign it a port until Monday.

Italy's ANSA news agency quoted Ammatuna saying Monday that he was relieved that the "nightmare is over for the 110 migrants on board who can now be welcomed and helped in the best way possible."

Italy’s new government has taken a hard line in its position on migration, having found itself in a diplomatic dispute with Malta earlier this month after it closed its port to another NGO-operated rescue vessel that was carrying migrants saved in Libyan search and rescue waters, insisting instead that they disembarked in Malta.

READ MORE: Malta and Italy in war of words as migrant vessel 'loiters' in international waters