The Italian government has concluded that the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) turned away at gunpoint a boat carrying migrants from Maltese waters, after giving them fuel and the GPS coordinates to reach Italy, according to the Guardian.
According to the newspaper, the Italian Foreign Ministry released the report over the April 12 incident saying: “The conduct of the Maltese authorities in this circumstance is in line with an unfortunately not new attitude on the part of Valletta.” The report adds: “Maltese authorities have often evaded the obligations set out in international conventions on the subject of rescue at sea.’’
Times of Malta has officially requested a copy of the investigation report.
The Guardian says that the police in Sicily is now investigating and the prosecutor’s office may open an investigation against Malta in the next few days.
It says Maltese officers risk being charged with aiding illegal immigration.
The investigation came after an incident earlier this month when the AFM did not rescue a boat of migrants off the coast of Malta. Instead it gave the 101 passengers fuel and coordinates to Italy.
A video published by NGO Alarm Phone showed people floating in the water, wearing life jackets as an AFM boat circled around the area. Migrants later told The Guardian that they turned them away at gunpoint and said: 'We give you 30 minutes'
Both Italy and Malta declared their seaports unsafe due to the COVID-19 pandemic, closing their borders and leaving boats carrying asylum seekers adrift in European search and rescue (SAR) zones.
The government has chartered a fourth tourist boat to hold a further 75 migrants rescued by the Armed Forces of Malta on Wednesday. The total on all four boats is around 425.
NGO Alarm Phone last week published the footage and transcripts of conversations with survivors from the boat, who said they had Malta in their sight on the morning of April 11.
The video shows people floating in the water, wearing life jackets. Instead of proceeding to immediately rescue those overboard, it circled around the area.
Alarm Phone claims survivors say the AFM made "dangerous manoeuvres" close to people in the water, further endangering their lives.
"After failing to assist, and even directly endangering and threatening the people in distress, the survivor testimonies highlight how the AFM provided fuel, an engine, and GPS coordinates to the distressed and instructed them to continue to Italy – practices commonly associated with smuggling operations,” the NGO said.