Updated 9.40pm with lawyer's comments on the ship's situation

A cargo ship with a group of 78 migrants on board has become a political football, with both Italy and Malta refusing it entry.

The migrants were picked up by the ship from a small wooden boat on Sunday.

Prime Minister Robert Abela on Monday said Malta would not budge in its stance of keeping migrants outside its territorial waters, as the country’s ports are closed. 

Lawyer Ann Fenech, representing the owners of the MV Marina explained that the vessel had been en route from Sfax to Malta Freeport when it was diverted by the Malta rescue centre (Malta RCC) to search for and pick up the migrants. 

Once the migrants were embarked, the master asked Malta RCC for instructions on the disembarkation but none were forthcoming. 

As it was standing by, the vessel drifted towards Lampedusa and asked the Port of Lampedusa for permission to disembark the migrants. Lampedusa refused entry and advised the master that it is the Malta RCC which is responsible.   

There are only 13 crew members, who are not experienced in search and rescue, and 77 migrants. They do not have enough food and water to get them past the next 24 hours

"The Master advises that the situation is serious. There are only 13 crew members who are not experienced in search and rescue and 77 migrants. They do not have enough food and water to get them past the next 24 hours and six of the migrants require urgent medical attention. Neither do the crew have sufficient personal protective equipment for the migrants and the situation on board is now very difficult," Fenech said. 

"RCC Malta has been specifically requested to allow the vessel to continue its journey to Malta where it can disembark the migrants and continue with its loading and discharging of containers."

She said that on behalf of the owners she had communicated with the commander of the armed forces and was awaiting a reply.  

The NGO Alarm Phone also reported that the people on board are short of water and food. 

“Malta once more refuses to take responsibility and risks the health of people in need,” it said in a tweet.

The European Commission has, in turn, said it can play a role in relocating migrants once they have been allowed to disembark. 

In a statement, 32 NGOs have called for an end to the migration impasse

Almost 150 people are stranded out at sea in Malta’s search and rescue area, while Malta waits for other European states to step in and offer support, the NGOs lamented. Some are on board a Maltese Captain Morgan tourist launch just outside territorial waters. 

The NGOs said that while they recognised the challenges Malta and Italy faced, "these challenges cannot be used as an excuse to abdicate our responsibility to save lives and to ensure that the rights of all within our jurisdiction are safeguarded".  

The NGOs added that this duty is not only a legal but also a moral imperative which can never be subjected to political conditions, such as the availability of concrete offers of relocation.

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