2nd Dec 2023

Malta refused to rescue boat in distress, say campaigners

  • A Sea Watch reconnaissance plane snapped this photo of some 400 people on a trawler (Photo: Sea Watch)
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Malta refused to help rescue hundreds of people on a fishing boat in distress in their regional waters, according to campaigners.

Sea Watch International, an NGO, on Monday (10 April), said that Malta had instructed two nearby merchant vessels not to carry out a rescue.

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One of the merchant boats was instead told to supply fuel and water to the boat, which had sailed from the Libyan coast last week, said the NGO.

The Armed Forces of Malta (AFM), in a statement to Maltese media on Tuesday, claims there had been no demand for a rescue by those on the fishing boat.

"Reports concerning migrants in Malta's SRR [search-and-rescue region] are followed up immediately, and vessels which are not in distress are monitored accordingly. Moreover, written communication received by the AFM from the ship captain providing duty of care confirms that no rescue was requested by the people on board," they said.

But Maltese authorities in the past have also ignored repeated requests for help, posing questions on the veracity of such statements.

This was confirmed and witnessed by EUobserver while on board the Ocean Viking rescue ship, where authorities in Valetta ignored numerous requests to help rescue disabled children during an operation in their SRR.

Rescuers at the time had sent multiple emails, which went unanswered. Phone calls were also either ignored or not followed up.

Alarm Phone, an NGO, also disputed the Maltese statement.

They said they had in fact sent 21 emails to Malta requesting a rescue operation for the 400 people. The first alert was sent just after midnight on Easter Sunday, they said.

"We also called and asked for rescue, only to be hung up on. Shame on @armed_forces_malta for lying and denying responsibility!," they tweeted.

On Tuesday, the fishing vessel of 400 had entered Italian waters and is now being escorted by the Italian coast guard, said Alarm Phone.

Alarm Phone by mid-morning Tuesday described the conditions onboard as dramatic after having spoken to some on the boat.

"They report several medical emergencies, water filling the vessel and no fuel left," they said.

The Italian navy is now carrying out a massive rescue operation. Another boat with 800 has also been located, totalling over 1,200 people off the coast of Sicily in need of help.

The dramas reflect an on-going crisis that has turned the Mediterranean Sea into one of the deadliest routes for people seeking safety in Europe.

The Easter weekend holiday has so far seen numerous people die or go missing at sea.

German NGO ResQship said its boat Nadir had recovered two corpses at sea over the weekend, after having rescued 22 people.

The same day saw at least another 23 people go missing off the coast of Tunisia after two boats sunk. Four bodies had washed up on the Tunisian beaches.

The sinking marked the seventh so far this month alone, according to the AFP news agency.

On board with SOS Méditerranée

Malta refuses to help rescue involving disabled children

The Libyan Coast Guard intercepted a wooden boat of 30 people some 10 nautical miles inside Malta's search and rescue zone. But then suddenly let them go, allowing the Ocean Viking to perform its first rescue since leaving Marseille.

Crotone shipwreck triggers police vs coastguard blame game

As the body count continues to rise from the Crotone shipwreck off the Calabria coast, authorities in Italy are looking for who to blame. At least 68 people are now confirmed dead, including children, after a 20-metre boat sank.

NGOs rescue around 800 people in Mediterranean

The NGO rescue vessel Ocean Viking has 555 people onboard, while Sea Watch 3 has 250. The rescues come as the Libyans intercept over 1,000 people in two days, while another boat in Malta's search-and-rescue zone pleas for help.

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