Malta is being accused of setting a record in delaying help to migrants but says it is monitoring a boat in distress off Lampedusa.

On Wednesday the emergency rescue hotline Alarm Phone called on the Maltese authorities to rescue 60 people who were in the island’s search and rescue area.

After “investigating the case” Malta told the NGO that the closest merchant vessel has been informed, however, this was three-and-a-half hours away from the boat in distress.

This is when the NGO also called on Italy to come to the rescue. It said a merchant vessel was close to the boat but was only monitoring it. The boat was situated 35 nautical miles south of Lampedusa.

On Thursday an Armed Forces of Malta spokesperson told Times of Malta that it had deployed its assets to monitor the boat in distress.

According to Alarm Phone, this case of "non-assistance" reflected a pattern in the area.

“Italy and Malta push away their responsibility, bargaining over people’s lives, until one state gives in or until people drown just in front of Lampedusa, with hundreds of deaths already recorded,” the NGO tweeted.

The migrants have now been out at see for 18 hours, a record for non-assistance by the AFM, Malta and Rome’s Guardia Costiera.

The boat has been adrift for many hours, and the engine was not working properly, the NGO added.

In a similar case on Monday, Alarm Phone said it had informed Malta and Italy about 20 people in distress.

The boat reached Italy’s search and rescue area 28 hours later and the migrants were eventually rescued in Lampedusa.

Between January 26 and 27, Malta rescued 150 people in less than 24 hours

Over the span of that weekend, seven boats carrying more than 500 people fleeing the Libyan warzone were spotted in the Mediterranean. Five of them were rescued by search and rescue NGOs and two by Malta.

Delaying rescues

Alarm Phone has already accused Malta of delaying the rescue of migrants at sea in one of its bi-monthly reports.

Referring to migrant crossings throughout September and October of 2019, the NGO said delays to rescue missions, particularly by Maltese authorities, were continuing despite warnings of the risk to human life.  

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