No location yet for migrant quarantine ship

A government call for tenders for the leasing of a vessel to accommodate migrants held in quarantine closes on Monday

Early on in the pandemic, the government had chartered four pleasure ships to detain migrants just outside territorial waters, a venture that cost €1.7 million
Early on in the pandemic, the government had chartered four pleasure ships to detain migrants just outside territorial waters, a venture that cost €1.7 million

Government has given no indication where it intends to moor a ship it will charter to quarantine rescued migrants as reception facilities reach breaking point.

Details concerning the ship’s location and its capacity will only be divulged after the government negotiates with potential bidders, the Home Affairs Ministry said.

On Thursday, the government issued an expression of interest for the leasing of a vessel to accommodate migrants held in quarantine. The tender, which will be adjudicated through a negotiated procedure, closes tomorrow.

The ministry confirmed with MaltaToday that the initial reception facilities where migrants are kept upon arrival in Malta currently house more than 3,500 people.

In the past week, Malta took in 127 migrants, 85 of who tested positive for coronavirus. These patients are being kept in isolation at the Ħal Far Initial Reception Centre and the rest are in quarantine and being monitored.

The chartering of the vessel is directly linked to the number of COVID-19 cases among migrant arrivals. Hundreds of immigrants have been escaping from Libya that has been experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases.

According to the expression of interest, the vessel must have “a number of cabins to hold migrants for a specific period of time” and be able to offer segregated areas for different groups.

The tender conditions say the vessel shall be moored at “a designated zone as instructed by the competent authorities” but no indication is given where this could be.

A ministry spokesperson told MaltaToday that “more specific information will be made public once the negotiated procedure is finalised based on the submissions made”.

Last May, government had chartered four pleasure cruise ships to hold more than 400 migrants in detention just outside territorial waters on Hurd’s Bank at a cost of €1.7 million.

The controversial decision was taken as Malta closed its ports because of a national health emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The move followed a similar decision taken by Italy.

Government had insisted the migrants would be kept offshore until a European relocation mechanism was agreed  upon, but eventually gave in and brought the people ashore.

This time around, the chartered vessel appears to be a temporary quarantine measure before rescued migrants are allowed to disembark.

A similar measure was adopted in Sicily when the Italian authorities chartered a passenger and commercial vessel, the Moby Zaza, to serve as a quarantine area for migrants.

The government intends to charter the vessel for one month, with possible extensions.

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