The army is capable of honouring “all” of Malta’s international obligations when saving people at sea, the commander of the Armed Forces of Malta said yesterday.

Reacting to criticism that Malta sometimes reneged on its oblig-ations to save people at sea, Brigadier Martin Xuereb told an audience of Euro Parliamentarians that the army’s response to all search and rescue cases was “prompt and decisive” regardless of who was saved.

He was addressing a regional seminar organised by the Europ-ean Parliament office in Malta themed Europe’s New Mediterranean Reality: Migration And Asylum In Malta, Greece And Cyprus.

Brig. Xuereb said the army was “equipped, trained and capable” of honouring Malta’s international obligations.

Under international law, Malta is obliged to coordinate rescue efforts in a given area but is not expected to perform all the rescue operations itself.

Brig. Xuereb was conciliatory in his tone and said Malta enjoyed a special bond with Italy, which was strengthened by the presence of the Italian Military Mission on the island.

He admitted that differences between the two countries arose in understanding certain aspects of search and rescue obligations, but insisted these related solely to the disembarkation of people once they were rescued.

“There are absolutely no differences about the fact that the preservation of human life is the paramount consideration. We all agree that we cannot allow anything to detract from this effort,” he said.

Brig. Xuereb explained that Malta had consistently insisted it was in the best interests of rescued people to disembark in the nearest safe place. It was for this reason, he explained, that Malta objected to the guidelines issued by the European border agency Frontex. Malta has refused to coordinate any Frontex oper-ations in the central Mediterranean because the guidelines say that all rescued migrants would have to be disembarked in the country hosting the operation.

Brig. Xuereb expressed regret at the loss of life at sea and said that despite the army’s efforts it was not always possible to be successful. “The fact is that the very nature of the migration pheno-menon is such that significant risks exist and these risks will continue to have fatal consequences,” he said.

Closing the seminar, Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici called for more solidarity across the EU in dealing with migration.

He expressed gratitude to the member states that had pledged to resettle about 400 migrants from Malta but insisted the participation of more member states would have made the project “more truly European in scope”.

“Additional efforts are still required to concretely alleviate the situation in Malta, not only to Malta’s benefit but also to the benefit of the beneficiaries of international protection themselves,” Dr Mifsud Bonnici said, noting that integration was problematic in a small community like Malta.

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