Update 4 | All four boats carrying 425 asylum seekers to dock in Malta

Captain Morgan boat enters Malta as migrants protest: ‘It’s obvious they’ve had enough’

The Europa II docking at Isla
The Europa II docking at Isla

Updated at 10:20pm with government statement

Migrants held offshore on four tourist boats will be allowed to disembark in Malta, the government announced on Saturday night.

The decision came after migrants held indefinitely on the Captain Morgan boat, Europa II, today mounted a protest at their detention, as punishing weather and a five-week imprisonment out at sea pushed people on the brink of sanity. 

The Europa II elected to enter Malta after crew members aboard the vessel complained that they had been placed in an impossible situation by the Maltese government’s intransigence and refusal to take in the asylum seekers.

“They say they have been on good terms with the migrants on board – that they have been feeding them regularly and respecting Ramadan dietary requirements, also entertaining them. But it is obvious the migrants have had enough, suffering constant sea sickness and unable to see an end to this detention,” a source aware of the situation aboard the boat said.

The government said on Saturday night that it would be allowing migrants aboard all four vessels held outside territorial waters to disembark in Malta.

“This decision was taken after the situation on these ships became very difficult and a commotion erupted,” the statement said.

The Europa II berthed at Boiler Wharf in Isla this evening, while ship tracking websites still place the other three vessels – Bahari, Atlantis and Jade – outside territorial waters on Hurd’s Bank.

The private boats were chartered by the government to hold aboard 425 rescued migrants – a ruse designed to prevent them from claiming asylum in Malta. 

Earlier in the day, a ministry source played down claims of a protest by the migrants, although MaltaToday’s source indicated that the situation on the Europa II was becoming worrying for the crew. 

“Except for the captain’s cabin, the migrants are threatening to commandeer the ship. They obviously outnumber the crew and security… they threatened to burn the boat down since they have access to the kitchen as well as any utensils inside. If any trouble ensues aboard the ship, the captain will probably steer the boat to shore,” the source said. 

Despite the Armed Forces of Malta having been informed of the ongoing situation, the AFM was simply monitoring the boat while it was anchored just offshore Pembroke.

The migrants aboard the Europa II were rescued at sea between April 30 and May 7. On April 30, the Maltese government arranged for the transfer of 57 people rescued the day before by a private fishing vessel to the Europa II, a 35m tourist ferry boat owned by Captain Morgan Cruises Ltd.

Malta closed its ports to rescued migrants citing the COVID-19 emergency, a decision that followed a similar move by Italy.

But the Maltese government last week proclaimed it had “won the war” on the pandemic, after registering its lowest infection rate ever and lifting most of its public health restrictions.

On May 19, a man sent a Facebook post to the nongovernmental organization Alarm Phone, which runs a hotline for boats in distress in the Mediterranean, saying he was on board the Europa II and described the increasing despair in the “water prison.”

Malta has insisted that the migrants it rescued at sea should be redistributed among EU member states, but so far little progress has been made beyond pledges by France and Portugal.

In its statement on Saturday, the government said it was not ready to put in danger the lives of crew members and other people working with these migrants, blaming the situation on the lack of European solidarity.

“The Maltese government is still carrying out intensive negotiations on relocation. The asylum process will be speeded up in the case of those migrants coming from safe countries. In these cases, if the asylum application is rejected, the person will be returned to the country of origin in a few days,” the government said.

The government said Malta had been abandoned by its European partners, pledging to continue working with Libya to stem the flow of migrants from the north African state.

The European Commission has so far said it will try to convince other member states to relocate the rescued migrants.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Robert Abela, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights had urged the government to fully meet its human rights obligations towards migrants who cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe. 

“In accordance with their obligations under international maritime and human rights law, the Maltese authorities should respond effectively and urgently to any situation of distress at sea of which they become aware,” Dunja Mijatović wrote.

The Commissioner also called on the government to refrain from any action that would result in the return to and disembarkation in Libya of persons rescued or intercepted at sea. This also includes refraining from issuing instructions to private vessels to disembark rescued persons in Libya, and not handing over responsibility to the Libyan Coast Guard or related entities when the foreseeable consequence of this would be disembarkation in Libya.