Tanker carrying migrants denies it was instructed to head to Libya

Tanker carrying 102 migrants denies its captain disobeyed orders to return to Libya; Government publishes correspondence stating otherwise.

Liberian-flagged tanker MT Salamis was stopped just outside Malta's territorial waters in the early hours of the morning; AFM preparing food and water to distribute on vessel.
Liberian-flagged tanker MT Salamis was stopped just outside Malta's territorial waters in the early hours of the morning; AFM preparing food and water to distribute on vessel.

Matters remain at a standstill outside the Maltese territorial waters where a Liberian-flagged vessel carrying 102 migrants it rescued on the high seas, is at a standoff with the Maltese army

On Sunday evening, the Italian rescue coordination centre ordered MT Salamis, operated by Greek shipping company Mantinia, to rescue 102 migrants and take them back to the nearest port of call. With the migrants' dinghy still in the Libyan search and rescue zone at just 45 nautical miles off the Libyan coast, Italy instructed the captain's vessel to head back towards the port of Khom from where it had just departed.

The tanker, carrying gasoil destined for Malta, rescued the migrants but proceeded towards Malta. During its voyage, the Maltese government informed the captian access to Maltese waters would be denied. At 24 nautical miles off the Maltese coast, the Armed Forces of Malta intercepted the vessel and refused it entry.

The ship's representatives denied that MT Salamis had been ordered to go back to Tripoli, contradicting statements made by the Maltese government, the Italian search and rescue centre - and in comments to MaltaToday - Italian ambassador Giovanni Umberto de Vito.

In a statement issued on Monday evening, Mantinia Shipping denied that it was instructed by the Italian authorities to head back to Libya, insisting that the vessel did not have the capacity, provisions and medical equipment to accommodate 102 persons, over and above the crew.

The company urged the Italian and Maltese authorities to "urgently provide clear instructions for disembarkation of the rescued people," who claim to be from Ethiopia and Eritrea, included a baby and 20 women, four of whom are pregnant.

It added that some of the passengers needed medical assistance, pointing out that the ship was loaded with an inflammable petroleum cargo and only had safety equipment for 32 people.

Mantinia Shipping claimed that after receiving a call from the Italian authorities to rescue the migrants, the Salamis proceeded to pick up the migrants who were shouting for help and waving white flags on a damaged rubber dinghy.

The company said that after picking up the migrants the Italian authorities never answered the ship's calls and the ship proceeded on its way to Malta.  Mantinia Shipping stressed that the vessel's master complied with instructions given by the Italian authorities Rome and carried out its obligations according to law at all times.

It said the authorities should take into account the particular circumstances and observe guidelines set by the IMO, the European Union and other international guidelines covering persons rescued at sea.

Correspondence between Malta and Italy rescue centres

In the afternoon the government published the communication between the Italian Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome and the its Maltese counterpart which confirmed that the ship was ordered to head to Tripoliafter taking the migrants aboard.

The communication explained that the Italian Rescue Coordination Centre "on behalf of the Libyan authorities" diverted MT Salamis back to Tripoli.

Although the number of migrants on board the tanker totals 102, the Italian authorities said that the dinghy in distress carried 250 migrants.

The communication also confirmed that the vessel's captain refused to head to Tripoli and told the Italian authorities that "as master of the ship, his own decision was to proceed towards Malta as original port of call."

Captain's 'autonomous decision' to proceed towards Malta

The Armed Forces of Malta have since been monitoring the vessel to ensure the ship does not cross into Malta's waters.

A similar incident occurred on Sunday night when a second group of migrants was recused by another cargo ship in the Libyan search and rescue zone. Similarly, the Italian maritime rescue centre instructed the vessel to rescue the migrants and proceed towards Tripoli.

The Turkish vessel followed the instructions and the Libyan government accepted the migrants.

"Rome's rescue centre expressly ordered the tanker to go back to Libya," Italian ambassador Giovanni Umberto De Vito told MaltaToday, contradicting statements given by the ship representative.

The Italian ambassador said it had been the captain's own decision to head towards Malta.

"After Rome instructed the vessel to go to Tripoli, the vessel's captain declared he was going to proceed towards Malta, citing commercial reasons," De Vito said.

According to the home affairs ministry, the decision taken by the captain, operator and owners of the tanker to ignore Italian instructions was "in breach of international obligations which regulate disembarkation of individuals in rescue operations".

Meanwhile, the AFM was also preparing rations of food and water to distribute to the migrants and MT Salamis crew in case the vessel runs out of supplies. It appears the vessel has enough food for both migrants and crew to last for 24 hours.

Opposition supports government

In a reaction, the Nationalist Party declared the Maltese government's action was in accordance with international law.

"The government is taking the same position as that of the PN administration in identical circumstances, as per international law. In these identical situations, ships that had not taken migrants to the nearest, safest port of call were refused entry into Malta when these tried to enter Maltese waters... the Opposition hopes this action will have a positive outcome."

Sunday night

The situation developed late on Sunday night when the Maltese government was informed of the vessel's decision to head towards the island despite instructions to take the migrants to Tripoli.

Having had just left the port of Khoms in Libya, Italian authorities instructed MV Salamis to rescue migrants on board a dinghy and take them to the safest port of call. Found at 45 miles off the Libyan coast, the nearest port was Khoms.

MaltaToday is informed that instead of returning to the Libyan port after having rescued the migrants, MV Salamis continued with its planned route and headed towards Malta.

The Maltese government has since been in contact with the captain of MV Salamis informing him that access to enter Maltese waters was being denied.

The government insisted that once the migrants were rescued and out of danger, and it had been obliged to enter the closest port of call, the tanker could not enter Maltese territorial waters.

This development came within hours of the arrival of 111 irregular migrants who landed in Delimara on Sunday evening. The group included 86 men, 15 women, nine children and a baby. The group landed unescorted on board a dinghy in Delimara shortly after 7pm. Members of the Rapid Intervention Unit were dispatched to the area.

An unconfirmed number of migrants were taken to Mater Dei Hospital.

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Martinia Shipping denied that the Italian authorities instructed the Salamis to go back to Libya. The proof in this news item is obvious in the document provided. Surely Martinia Shipping can read it again as they may have missed a word or two while reading this black on white document!!
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Joseph Muscat get us out of the EU, these people want Malta to be their defense from all this immigration and we are not governing Malta anymore......they dictate everything to us and they are damaging our Island. We are a republic and we can stand up against all of this nonsense......were is the Maltese pride.
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"The tanker, carrying gasoil destined for Malta, ... " There's the commercial interest, Sur Avukat.
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Now this has to be the cherry on top of the cake. A ship's captain is also dictating to us what to do. This irresponsible captain should have obeyed orders to return to Libya because if not he is breaching maritime laws and disobeying direct orders. I think that Simon Busuttil should consult with Joseph Muscat and figure once and for all what to do to stop illegal immigration. This is not a PL or PN problem, this is a Malta problem and if not stopped soon it will be too late to act on it. These two leaders should be fighting for the Maltese people before any others and Simon Busuttil should realize that fact. If Simon Busuttil and the whole PN do not back the PM then they can kiss goodbye to the next election. When it in regard to illegal immigration Simon Busuttil and others should not undermine our prime Minister. Ejjew najtu Viva Malta, Malta tal-Maltin. First and foremost.
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The PN will suffer in the European elections this time,because of Simon backstab the country.
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I believe the Italian authorities and ambassador to Malta Umberto di Vito that the ship's Greek captain was instructed to go back to the Libyan safest port and that he refused "for commercial reasons". Tajba din, as if the Malta Government and Opposition combined - who are irritated at this event - are commercial partners of the Greek captain! Please NGOs let the Maltese politicians lead the Maltese. We are adults and we do not need your highly unwanted foreign interference.
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"After Rome instructed the vessel to go to Tripoli, the vessel's captain declared he was going to proceed towards Malta, citing commercial reasons," De Vito said. Were his commercia obigation those of transporting the illegal immigrants to Malta and he was caught in the act?
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As far as I can understand the captain of the ship Salamis breached international orders to enter into Malta's waters when being denied entry.This smells. Malta should look into this irresponsible captain.
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Frankly, considering the anti-Malta petition in the EP, I thought that the PN would condemn the Malta government this time too and holler in favour of the invasion. I thought the PN [+ NGOs, PN academics etc] would shriek like it did in the pushback case when the PN in government had practised pushback itself and said that two wrongs don't make a right! But no, I was wrong;in the tanker saga, the PN is showing solidarity with Malta. Unexpected but welcome. We must be one nation: SBEJHA PATRIA WLIEDEK AHNA!
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I full agree with this decsion,we cannot take any more, we've reached our limits. Well done to all involved. But an honest question, why is this not considered as a push back ?
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I full agree with this decsion,we cannot take any more, we've reached our limits. Well done to all involved. But an honest question, why is this not considered as a push back ?
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I full agree with this decsion,we cannot take any more, we've reached our limits. Well done to all involved. But an honest question, why is this not considered as a push back ?
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I strongly believe that this system had been used by these criminals to send the illegal immigrants on their way to Europe. It is impossible that a dinghy full of illegal immigrants with just an outboard motor be able to travel this long distance and arrive to it's destination. This is the way that is being done. How can no one notice these dinghies full of people, when there is a great amount of ships crossing the Mediterranean sea?
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Congratulations. A step in the right direction. Let's hope this is followed by the repatriation of all illegal immigrants in Malta.
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What is scary is that these people had it on their mind destination Malta? Why is a speck of a rock from all places their aim? Why everybody in Africa want to come here? are they aiming to meet their already establish relatives? This is the plea for us locals we need help, this planned, organized, and targeted destruction of this island home called Malta, it must stop before we start stepping on each other. Europe is not helping and Libya only agree to help to do otherwise as they are renowned for. To me this is what the people worry and if Dr. Muscat get it right he is promised to remain in power till he become a 100.
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What is scary is that these people had it on their mind destination Malta? Why is a speck of a rock from all places their aim? Why everybody in Africa want to come here? are they aiming to meet their already establish relatives? This is the plea for us locals we need help, this planned, organized, and targeted destruction of this island home called Malta, it must stop before we start stepping on each other. Europe is not helping and Libya only agree to help to do otherwise as they are renowned for. To me this is what the people worry and if Dr. Muscat get it right he is promised to remain in power till he become a 100.