Updated | Lifeline standoff: No green light from Malta as two EU member states yet to agree to take migrants

A migrant ship with 234 people on board will only be allowed into Malta once two remaining member states agree to take their share of the migrants • Government says that possible action could be taken against the ships crew if it enters Malta

234 migrants are still on board the Lifeline, five days after they were rescued
234 migrants are still on board the Lifeline, five days after they were rescued

Updated at 4pm with government statement

Malta and a number of "willing" EU member states are currently negotiating the terms of an "ad hoc agreement" to distribute the migrants on board the MV Lifeline amongst themselves, the Maltese government has said.

In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, the government said that diplomatic efforts were being led by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and other European insitutions.

"Four member states have already confirmed their participation, while another two are evaluating the case," the statement read, confirming earlier reports by MaltaToday that the ship would be allowed into Malta, pending an agreement on the distribution of the migrants.

The government said that in the eventuality that the vessel entered Malta the MV Lifeline would be investigated with "possible action" taken against the crew.

Earlier sources told MaltaToday that Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte may have jumped the gun when he declared that the MV Lifeline would be docking in Malta.

Just after 1pm on Tuesday, Conte said Italy was willing to take its share of the migrants from the ship, as he announced that the vessel would be heading to Malta.

However, the sources said that while Malta had agreed in principle to allow the vessel to enter its ports, this was dependent on an agreement being reached among six member states for the distribution of the passengers on board.

They said that Malta and Italy, along with two other member states had agreed to take their share of the migrants, however two other non-Mediterranean countries were still to sign up to the deal. On Tuesday morning Italy also allowed the Alexander Maersk, a container ship, to disembark 110 migrants rescued last Thursday. The ship had been awaiting orders outside the port of Pozzallo in Sicily. 

“The Maltese government will not give its go ahead before the migrants are sorted among the other member states,” the sources said. 

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

The Lifeline is believed to currently be 27 nautical miles from Malta to the south of Malta in international waters.

Earlier on Tuesday, the government issued a statement saying diplomatic efforts led by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat were underway in order for a humanitarian crisis to be avoided.

It said that the current situation had been caused by the actions of the ship’s captain who ignored instructions given in accordance with international rules.

The government statement suggested that the ship’s captain and crew would be investigated.

Meanwhile, it appears that the Maltese authorities have refused the MV Aquarius, a migrant rescue vessel operated by SOS Mediterranee, entry into Malta for a crew change.  

The Aquarius was at the centre of another standoff between Malta and Italy earlier this month, which was ultimately resolved when Spain stepped in to take the 629 migrants onboard.

More in Europe

Get access to the real stories first with the digital edition

Subscribe