Maltese army defends role in migrants' rescue

The Armed Forces of Malta has defended its role in a search and rescue mission of 44 asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean, which were taken to Syracuse two days after being spotted.

The AFM said Italy refused to allow entry of the migrants to Lampedusa.
The AFM said Italy refused to allow entry of the migrants to Lampedusa.

The Armed Forces of Malta has defended its role in a search and rescue mission of 44 asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean, which were taken to Syracuse two days after being spotted.

In a statement, the AFM took issued with comments by the spokesperson of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, claiming the refugee agency was giving the false impression that the Maltese SAR authorities abdicated from their responsibilities and did not cooperate with the relevant Italian authorities in the conduct of this SAR mission.

UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards was quoted saying that UNHCR was grateful that the Italian navy took this initiative to save the migrants despite the fact that the boat was in Maltese search and rescue waters.

But the AFM said the statement omitted to mention that the Italians were refusing to take in the migrants to Lampedusa, the nearest port of call. "The decision for the Italian Navy vessel Foscari to take the rescued migrants to an Italian port in Sicily was the result of Italian insistence that Lampedusa does not represent a place of safety for the disembarkation of migrants, despite it being a mere four hours steaming away from the position where the persons were rescued," AFM spokesperson Major Ivan Consiglio said.

"Under the relevant legal regime applicable with the Malta search and rescue region, the persons should have been disembarked in Lampedusa which, despite declarations to the contrary, represented the nearest place of safety."

The AFM said that at all times during the rescue operation, Malta fully complied with all international legal obligations and cooperated closely with all other relevant SAR authorities who were engaged in this case.

The initial call on Tuesday, November 8 was made from the migrants' rubber dinghy was taken by Palermo Radio in Sicily, which in turn referred it to the Italian SAR authority at MRCC Rome.

"MRCC Rome was the initial coordinating authority as the first RCC alerted to the incident, and thus responsible for directing efforts to localize the distress position and address rescue assets in that direction. As an RCC that was also aware of a potential distress, RCC Malta immediately engaged in supporting MRCC Rome in the conduct of this case," the AFM said.

Malta immediately issued a Navtex warning message and broadcast a PAN PAN voice radio message to all shipping in the area. This routine procedure alerted all vessels navigating in the area of the reported distress. In addition, RCC Malta also successfully established contact with the migrants themselves onboard the boat via satellite phone, and determined their general condition and the local weather state in their area.

An AFM surface asset that at the time was some three to four hours away from the reported distress position was offered to MRCC Rome for assistance but was declined as MRCC Rome stated that they already had a warship in the area.

Malta also initiated contacts with MRCC Tunis and NATO headquarters in Naples, so as to enquire whether any of their respective assets were in the area.

As a result of this, MRCC Tunis also deployed a patrol craft and a Tunisian flagged tug-boat to proceed towards the migrants' last tracked position, yet their search in the area yielded no results.

When the migrants' dinghy entered the Maltese SRR, RCC Malta then formally assumed the coordination of the SAR mission. Simultaneously the Italian authorities declared that "Lampedusa island's port is not a place of safety for disembarkation of migrants rescued at sea."

 

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Go on the UNHCR website. Look up its major contributors. You will find that Italy contributes hundreds of thousands of euros to UNHCR, Malta hardly anything. That will help you understand UNHCR constant hostility towards Malta.