Migrant testifies how Malta directed boat in distress towards Italy

The Maltese authorities have been accused of denying rescue to a migrant vessel last August and instead directing the distressed boat towards Italy • Malta has insisted migrants never asked to be rescued

Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano screams 'Malta scams Italy: Here is the proof'
Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano screams 'Malta scams Italy: Here is the proof'

In one of the most serious accusations yet, the Maltese authorities are said to have denied rescue to migrants aboard a wooden vessel last August.

The accusation is found in the acts of an Italian case against Interior Minister Matteo Salvini over his refusal to allow an Italian coastguard vessel, the Diciotti, to disembark 190 migrants.

The migrants spent five days aboard the Diciotti just outside the port of Catania in August last year after rescuing the people. Salvini had insisted the migrants should disembark in Malta. Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli had called for EU sanctions against Malta for denying the rescue.

The Maltese authorities at the time said the migrants refused assistance while passing through the Maltese area of competence and they had the right to safe passage in international waters. The eventual rescue took place closer to Lampedusa.

READ ALSO: Italian minister wants sanctions against Malta

However, documentation from the case seen by Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, quotes the testimony of Aphem Fishea, one of the rescued migrants, accusing the Maltese authorities of denying rescue.

He told the Italian inquiry that the Maltese had approached the migrant vessel and informed them that they had taken the wrong direction.

“They showed us the direction… to go to Italy… the sea was rough, we were scared… when the Maltese approached… we were happy… we imagined they would rescue us, we wanted to be rescued… on board there were unwell people… and we told all this to the Maltese,” Fishea testified.

He added that the Maltese patrol boat instructed them to follow it towards Italy.

“We followed the Maltese navy ship for 24 hours… then at night, we were abandoned… the sea was rough, and our wooden boat was taking in water… we feared drowning,” Aphem said.

It was at this point that the Italian coastguard approached and took the migrants on board. The Maltese authorities had at the time accused the Italians of carrying out an illegal interception of a vessel that was exercising its right of safe passage in international waters.

The documents quote mariners from the Italian coastguard saying that the water level inside the wooden boat had reached dangerous levels and they had to make a quick getaway from the boat after the rescue operation.

The vessel sank an hour after the rescue.

The documents also quote the Lampedusa port authority chief lamenting the lack of action by the Maltese authorities, insisting “over here it is war with Malta”.

The migrants eventually disembarked in Catania and were redistributed among EU member states.

The story was published in the Italian newspaper at a time when Malta and Italy are refusing to allow 49 migrants aboard two NGO vessels to disembark in their ports. The two countries have had a war of words over the latest case.

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