[SLIDESHOW] Salamis heads to Italy as Malta refuses access to rescued asylum seekers

Brussels calls on Muscat to take in migrants, home affairs minister says blocking access to oil tanker is matter of principle

The oil tanker M/T Salamis towers above the AFM's rescue craft, some 32 nautical miles southwest of Malta. Photo: Chris Mangion/Mediatoday
The oil tanker M/T Salamis towers above the AFM's rescue craft, some 32 nautical miles southwest of Malta. Photo: Chris Mangion/Mediatoday

The oil tanker M/T Salamis has sailed towards Syracuse, Italy, with the 102 migrants it rescued on Monday aboard, government sources confirmed at midnight on Tuesday.

Italy, the government later said in a statement, had accepted to take in the migrants who will in disembark at Syracuse. Sources had previously confirmed that diplomatic discussions between Malta and Italy intensified in the past hours with the result that Italy has agreed to take in the migrants.

The Maltese government was also in contact with Greece.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat thanked Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta and expressed his satisfaction that relations between the two governments would continue to flourish. "During this crisis Malta held its legitimate position firm... A position which sent a clear message," Muscat said.

The development came hours after home affairs minister Manuel Mallia addressed a press conference insisting that Malta would not allow the Liberian-flagged tanker in its territorial waters after having "ignored" specific instructions by the Italian and Maltese governments to deliver the migrants to the nearest port of call, at Khoms in Libya.

Part of the group of 102 asylum seekers that popped out onto the deck of the oil tanker M/T Salamis appeared to be relatively calm and composed when MaltaToday's photojournalist Chris Mangion arrived at the spot where the tanker was drifting, around 32 nautical miles southwest of Malta.

At 10am on Wednesday, European Commissioner Cecilia Malmström thanked Italy for taking in the 102 stranded migrants.

CONTINUES BELOW

After three hours aboard a high-speed dinghy sailing at a speed of 24 knots, Mangion arrived on the spot where the 200-metre-long Salamis, a Liberian-flagged tanker chartered by Greek shipping company Mantinia, was drifting with the current, its engines switched off, its decks appearing deserted.

The Salamis towered above the Armed Forces of Malta's search and rescue vessel and the P52 patrol boat, the vessels monitoring the tanker, and commanded by Capt. Etienne Scicluna. The tanker's as-yet-unnamed captain later emerged on deck to monitor the delivery of supplies from an AFM helicopter.

"He has been cooperative, and we boarded the tanker twice," an AFM officer told MaltaToday. "The situation on board is calm, but there is no real organisation. The migrants are all over the ship, much to the dismay of the tanker's crew."

None of the migrants, who were rescued on Sunday evening by the Salamis on orders of the Italian rescue coordination centre, had requested medical evacuation, the AFM said.

The Armed Forces yesterday kept monitoring the movement of the Salamis, which the Maltese government will not grant permission to deliver the migrants to Malta, while coordinating the delivery of vital supplies of food and water. The tanker was reportedly en route to Italy as diplomats brokered an agreement late on Tuesday night.

As an AFM helicopter lowered a net carrying the supplies, a number of migrants came to the side of the ship to watch. The captain, the only non-Filipino crewmember, was also seen on the deck throughout the operation.

MaltaToday yesterday also confirmed that the Liberian maritime authority, under whose flag the Salamis is registered, was finalising a complaint to the United Nations.

As an industry source said, the Liberian maritime authority was irked at the Greek owners of the Salamis, who had refused to take the Italian RCC's guidance to turn back to Khoms, where it had left on Sunday, after rescuing the migrants at a spot 45 nautical miles north of the Libyan port.

But later, they accepted the fact that the case was a humanitarian one which merited the involvement of a coastal state.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat convened a security meeting at Villa Francia in Lija, where he told those convened that he would object to the request for the Salamis to enter Malta. The meeting was told that the owners of the vessel wanted to enter Malta because of commercial considerations, namely to deliver their cargo of gasoil.

At the meeting, Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia, AFM Commander Martin Xuereb, and Attorney General Peter Grech agreed that the owners of the vessel had ignored the directions of the Italian RCC and that the Salamis should have been steered back to Libya, since that was the nearest port of call.

MaltaToday is also informed that the Greek owners of the vessel, Mantinia, informed the shipmaster of the Salamis not to return to Libya.

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PERSONAL: The moderator. Meta xi hadd jibghatlek xi haga PERSONAL tfisser ;li tkun ghalik biss. Dak li ghamilt urejt kemm int miskin. Jekk qed tahseb li MALMSTROM Air Force Base go Montana huwa xi hlejqa tieghi, nitolbok tinforma ruhek sewwa. Mill-bqija dak li ktibt fl-ewwel kumment tieghi huwa verita'. Niccalingjak li ggib DAK l-ewwel kumment. Insomma, diga ghedtlek, in-numru ta' kummenti mill-qarrejja diga juri t-trend fejn sejra Malta Today.
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Personal: The moderator. Xi seba' sieghat ilu bghatt kumment li mid-dehra ghandek xi oggezzjoni ghalih. Ma nafx x'rajtlu offensiv, imma mid-dehra sirna touchy hafna fejn tidhol l-UE, u specjalment fejn tissemma Ms Malmstrom. Jekk ser tibdew ticcensuraw intom tmorru minn taht, ghax kif diga qieghed jidher,hafna lanqas ghadhom jiktbu fuq din il- portal.
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First US Nuclear-armed Minuteman Missiles were installed at MALMSTROM AFB, Montana, aimed at the former Soviet Ubion. Europe's present illegal immigrants' base is at Malmstrom Brussels, hell-bent on destroying tiny Malta by regular baragges of illegal African immigrants. This big-headed bureaucrat, elected by no-one, warned us that if we send them back to Libya we'll be breaking international laws. So, acording to this pocket dictator, the US, Australia, Israel, France, Spain and others are immune to international laws, but tiny Malta is not !!.Europe was saved from dictatorship during WW 11, But we have been peacefully and cunningly put under a new kind of European Dictatorship. HANDS OFF MALTA.
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The next thing is to repatriate all illegal immigrants in Malta including those who have been gioven any sort of status by the ex-Jesuit refugee commissioner.
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The Greek Company Mantinia should be interdicted from access to Malta in future. They have disobeyed international law and caused unnecessary aggravation towards Malta. In fact the Captain and the owners of the Company should be charged for breaking International Law, disobeying legitimate orders, and an International warrant for their arrest issued either in Malta or Italy. Malmstrom should also be indicted for trying to force a state in breaking International Law. This situation cannot continue further. It is causing deep unrest amongst us Maltese and forcing more and more people in adopting racist views. The human traffickers must be attacked not Malta. What is Malmstrom doing about this? She is comfortable in an office, receiving hundreds of thousands of Euros and perks from our taxes, and makes a mockery of the whole EU Commission. All Malta should boycott EU elections next year as a sign of our disgust at the way the Commission is fattening its pockets at the detriment of its citizens.