Government strongly refutes allegations that Malta broke international law

The Maltese government has responded to allegations by search and rescue NGO which accused Malta of refusing to give migrants safe harbour in breach of international law

Photo of the boat rescued by the Sarost 5 (WatchTheMed)
Photo of the boat rescued by the Sarost 5 (WatchTheMed)

The government has strongly refuted allegations that Malta broke international rules when it directed rescued migrants to disembark in Tunisia.

The government was responding to an accusation by NGO WatchTheMed, which said that Malta and Italy refused to grant safe harbour to a supply ship inside the Maltese search and rescue region.

“The applicable conventions stipulate that disembarkation should take place at the nearest place of safety. In this case, Tunisia was the nearest place that satisfies the requirement as a safe place of disembarkation,” a statement by the government read.

WatchTheMed had said it had collected information that strongly suggests that a boat carrying 40 migrants from several African countries seeking protection in Europe, was "illegally transferred into Tunisian territorial waters" after having reached international waters and the Maltese SAR zone.

“MRCC Tunis as well as the crew of the supply vessel confirmed the position of the migrant boat in the Maltese SAR zone,” the NGO said on Wednesday. “Both Malta and Italy denied the supply vessel their permission to disembark the migrants in Maltese and Italian harbours.”

On Thursday the Maltese government said that it received a report that the migrants initially refused to be rescued unless they would be taken to a European port, irrespective of international rules.

“Such a situation would not only have been illegal but would have created a precedent against the said rules,” the government said.