Ninety migrants rescued by the Italian Coastguard were landed in Malta late on Tuesday after having been transferred to a Maltese patrol vessel.

They arrived at Hay Wharf at about 11pm, some 24 hours after they were rescued from a sinking boat which left from Libya. 

The Italian Coastguard said two Italian patrol boats transferred migrants to an AFM vessel just outside Maltese waters.

Disagreement had brewed between Malta and Italy earlier, with each country saying the other was responsible for the rescue. 

The migrants were rescued inin Malta’s search and rescue zone. 

On Tuesday, Italy’s Coastguard said that it had intervened following a request by Maltese authorities. 

But a spokesperson for the Armed Forces of Malta explained things differently. 

“We were surveilling the situation and the Italians got involved,” the spokesperson said, adding that the closest safe port was the Italian island of Lampedusa and that the rescued people should therefore be taken there. 

Italy’s coast guard, however, said that its vessel was bringing the 90 rescued people to Maltese waters and would be “waiting for instructions from Malta’s Search and Rescue coordination” to disembark the rescued people. 

It said that Italian ship had already asked for a Maltese patrol boat to meet it out at sea and transfer the rescued people, “but this was not granted”. 

Permission was granted at about 8pm.

Malta and Italy regularly clash over who is responsible for people rescued at sea, with the key disagreement stemming from both countries applying different provisions of international maritime law. 

While Malta recognises a law which requires people rescued at sea to be taken to the nearest safe port, Italy applies a different law which states that maritime rescues are the responsibility of countries whose Search and Rescue Zone people are in at the time of their rescue.

The matter is expected to come to a head when EU home affairs ministers meet in Malta next week to discuss migration.  

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