Update at 4.40pm with Frontex announcement locating boat.
The EU’s border agency on Monday morning went looking for a boat carrying migrants that went missing in the sea between Libya and Malta over the weekend.
A spokesman for Frontex confirmed with Times of Malta that they had launched a search flight mission on Monday morning to try to locate a boat of migrants that had become unaccounted for.
Later on Monday, the agency said the boat had been located. This, the agency said, meant that as of Monday, two boats had arrived in Sicily and two remained in the Maltese search and rescue area.
On Sunday, German NGO Sea-Watch claimed that a boat of migrants had capsized with many feared drowned - claims that were denied by Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo on Monday morning, who said that the vessel in question was a "derelict dinghy" not carrying any people.
Times of Malta is informed that a Frontex search plane did spot an unmanned vessel over the weekend, but it was not clear whether the boat had capsized or was simply left behind from a previous rescue mission.
The Swiss-based International Organization for Migration said the reports were "very worrying" but difficult to verify.
Four boats, but one unaccounted for
A spokesperson for Frontex said that its patrol planes had spotted four boats with migrants on board in the central Mediterranean over the past three days.
Three of those boats were first spotted on Friday in Libya's search and rescue area. A Frontex spokesperson said that the agency had immediately informed all relevant rescue coordination centres of the exact location of the migrant boats.
On Saturday, another patrol plane spotted a fourth migrant boat in the same area.
Frontex flew two additional surveillance flights on Sunday to keep tabs on the boats.
One of the boats first seen on Friday arrived in Pozzallo, Italy on Sunday morning. Two other boats were seen in the Maltese search and rescue area. But there was no sign of the fourth boat, the Frontex spokesperson said on Monday morning.
The situation at sea has become increasingly fraught after both Malta and Italy declared their ports closed to migrant rescues last week, citing the COVID-19 outbreak as the determining factor.
Meanwhile, security sources said that a number of boats had been spotted leaving Libya carrying migrants since last week, with a number still floating aimlessly in and around Malta’s search and rescue zone.