Aquarius leaves port as other NGO ships remain blocked

After disembarking 141 migrants in Malta, humanitarian ship MV Aquarius is allowed to leave port as Maltese authorities continue to prevent three other NGO vessels from leaving Grand Harbour

The MV Aquarius leaving port on Thursday afternoon (Photo: Massimo Costa/MediaToday)
The MV Aquarius leaving port on Thursday afternoon (Photo: Massimo Costa/MediaToday)

The humanitarian vessel MV Aquarius has left Grand Harbour, 24 hours after disembarking 141 rescued migrants in Malta.

The ship was allowed to dock in Malta on Wednesday after a four-day standoff between Mediterranean states left it anchored in international waters.

Malta gave permission to the ship to dock after a deal brokered by Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and French President Emmanuel Macron ensured that all migrants on board would be redistributed between several EU states.

However, while the Aquarius was allowed to leave port on Thursday, three other ships belonging to rescue NGOs remain blocked in Grand Harbour.

A government spokesperson defended the decision, insisting that the Maltese authorities were still communicating with their Dutch counterparts to ascertain the registration and classification of the three ships that all fly the Dutch flag.

The MV Lifeline, the Seefuchs and the SeaWatch, run by three different German NGOs are berthed in Grand Harbour and cannot leave.

The MV Lifeline remains impounded in Malta as the captain faces ongoing court proceedings over the ship's registration (Photo: Massimo Costa/MediaToday)
The MV Lifeline remains impounded in Malta as the captain faces ongoing court proceedings over the ship's registration (Photo: Massimo Costa/MediaToday)

The captain of the Lifeline is also facing court proceedings over what authorities, claim is the irregular manner in which the ship was registered with the Dutch authorities. Neither the Seefuchs nor the SeaWatch were accused of breaking the law but the Maltese authorities are in the process of verifying their Dutch registration as well.

The Lifeline was involved in a sea rescue operation off Libya last June and was initially denied entry into Malta and Italy after the captain ignored orders to leave the rescue to the Libyan coastguard.

It was eventually allowed to berth in Malta after a deal was brokered between several EU states to share the migrants. Upon entry to Malta, the ship was impounded and the captain taken to court. The case is ongoing.

The decision to allow the Aquarius to leave has raised question marks over the reasons why some NGO ships are blocked and others not.

The Aquarius flies the Gibraltar flag but the British overseas territory said it will be removing the ship from its register on 20 August, citing inconsistency between its registration as a survey vessel and its use as a search and rescue ship. This means the Aquarius will revert to the German flag after that date since the owners are based in Germany.

Rescue organisations believe the tough stand adopted by European governments, including Malta and Italy, to block NGO ships is politically-motivated and is putting the life of migrants at risk.

The June summit of EU leaders had called on all rescue organisations to cooperate with the Libyan coastguard, in a move seen as targeting the NGO vessels.

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