Lifeline captain interrogated by Malta police over 'flag issues'

Lifeline captain will be interrogated at Malta police headquarters and is expected to be taken back to his ship, which is impounded at Boiler Wharf inside Grand Harbour

The captain of the Lifeline is being questioned by the police
The captain of the Lifeline is being questioned by the police

The captain of the migrant rescue vessel that berthed in Malta on Wednesday evening is being interrogated by the police over 'flag issues', sources close to the investigation have told MaltaToday.

The ship has been accused of acting as a rescue vessel when it is registered as a pleasure craft in the Netherlands. However, doubts have also been cast on whether the ship is authorised to fly the Dutch flag after the authorities in the Netherlands said it was not registered there.

The captain of the Lifeline has been taken to police headquarters in Floriana for questioning and will be allowed to return to his vessel and the crew until further notice, a government spokesperson said. However, the ship is impounded and will not be allowed to leave Malta.

Upon the ship's arrival in Malta, the captain was advised that action will be taken against him. Two Maltese lawyers were observed assisting the captain while migrants were being disembarked from the ship.

Sources close to the ship said that many boats in the Netherlands had a pleasure boat licence. "This is the norm for boats under a certain tonnage," the sources said.

The ship captain was accused by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of precipitating the Lifeline crisis when he ignored orders from the Rome rescue coordination centre during last week's rescue.

It is understood that the Italian authorities had informed the Lifeline that the Libyan coastguard was going to rescue the migrants but the captain went ahead with the operation, before heading northward towards European shores.

However, sources close to the ship told MaltaToday that all orders were obeyed "except the order to return to Tripoli". Human rights groups and the UN consider Libya to be unsafe for migrants, with many reporting being tortured and raped.

The ship sources said it was unclear yet what action was being contemplated against the captain.

The police questioning comes on the back of growing unease among European governments over the work of migrant rescue NGOs in the central Mediterranean. There have been calls at European level for the introduction of a code of conduct for these private rescue vessels.

READ ALSO: NGOs refute that migrant rescue groups are breaching international law