Updated | Fishing boat with 450 migrants is now in Italian SAR

Malta and Italy appear to be heading towards another clash over which country should take in 450 migrants aboard a fishing vessel that departed from Libya • Boat changed course towards Lampedusa and is now in Italian SAR

It appears that people smugglers are once again resorting to wooden fishing boats (File photo)
It appears that people smugglers are once again resorting to wooden fishing boats (File photo)

Updated at 7.10pm

Italian Home Affairs Minister Matteo Salvini says 450 migrants aboard a fishing boat will not find refuge in Italy and insists Malta should take responsibility.

There has been no immediate response from the Maltese government.

The boat was in Malta's search and rescue area heading towards Sicily. But according to the Italy's home affairs ministry, the boat changed direction and has now entered Italian SAR and is heading towards Lampedusa.

Italian newspaper La Repubblica said the boat is around 20 metres long and probably left from the Libyan coastal town of Zuwara to the west of Tripoli.

Salvini said in a tweet that the Maltese authorities were informed of the boat but they did not respond. The fishing vessel is sailing northward.

Around 60 migrants, including many children, disembarked at Lampedusa between yesterday and today.

Back to fishing boats

The use of a fishing boat appears to be a new trend adopted by people smugglers in Libya in response to the stoppage of sea rescues by NGOs.

Malta and Italy have stopped rescue NGOs from using their ports, amid accusations that they are aiding people smugglers by patrolling the seas just off Libya’s coastline. NGOs deny this, insisting their only interest is to save lives at sea.

These boats, mostly made of wood, had been used in the past to smuggle people to European shores from Libya. Most of the time they are overcrowded and not in a good shape but sturdier than the rubber dinghies of recent years.

The use of wooden boats means that migrants are expected to go further out to sea, in the hope that they reach Lampedusa or Malta on their own steam.