The government is once again seeking a “European solution” on the 27 migrants stranded for nearly 10 days aboard an oil tanker anchored at Hurds Bank, outside territorial waters.
Sources close to the government said the Maersk Etienne had not been granted permission to take to shore the 27 migrants aboard until discussions at a European level on sharing the burden bear fruit.
“The migrants are not coming here. We are talking to other European states to see how we can share the burden,” a source said.
The migrants have been aboard the Maersk Etienne since being rescued on August 5 by the crew of the Danish tanker, after it responded to a distress call in Malta’s search and rescue zone. Maersk Tankers confirmed to Times of Malta on Tuesday that Maltese officials requested the crew provide assistance to the group.
“The crew has provided them water, food and blankets and will continue to support them in accordance with the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). We are working with relevant authorities to safely disembark the migrants,” the line said.
The situation is reminiscent of a similar rescue operation last month when a livestock carrier, the MV Talia, was sent to rescue a boatload of 52 migrants in distress by Malta’s search and rescue coordination centre.
Malta then refused to allow the migrants to disembark here. On that occasion, too, Malta sought guarantees from other EU member states on their immediate relocation.
MV Talia had just delivered animals to Libya a few days earlier when it was ordered to rescue the migrants.
After three days at sea, living in inhumane conditions in the part of the ship used to house livestock, Malta finally granted the migrants permission to land.
The Maltese government has long complained about having to shoulder the burden of migrant rescues in the Mediterranean, with more than 2,000 arrivals from Libya so far this year.
After Malta closed its ports in March, due to COVID-19, hundreds of migrants were kept on four tourist vessels outside Maltese waters at a cost to the taxpayer of €3,000 a day.
The government has now announced plans to deploy floating offshore centres to quarantine migrants who test positive for the virus. Some 14 companies have put in bids for the tender, with daily costs ranging from €12,000 to €150,000.