A Maltese patrol boat spent the better part of two days trailing a migrant boat in distress but made no attempts to rescue those on board, an NGO has claimed. 

Volunteers from the rescue organisation Sea Watch who flew an aircraft over the area told Times of Malta that AFM patrol boat P52 followed a small wooden boat with around 25 migrants on board, keeping between five and 10 nautical miles away at all times. 

“We first spotted the migrants on Tuesday afternoon. The people were waving and calling for help, it seemed like their engine had stopped and they were drifting, so we put out a distress signal with their position,” the volunteer said. 

On Tuesday morning, the 'Moonbird' aircraft crew spotted the AFM patrol boat around 12 miles away. Shortly after a rhib was deployed by the patrol boat and approached the migrants' boat.

One person appeared to lean over into the boat, in the vicinity of the engine. 

The rhib circled the migrants' boat a few times before returning to the patrol boat.

A few of the migrants were then seen wearing life vests after the rhib departed.

“Shortly after we discovered that the merchant vessel Pemba had been instructed to remain on standby at five miles,” the volunteer said.

“We attempted to contact AFM to see whether it was their intention to coordinate a rescue, but they did not answer our attempts at contact.”

During a second flight the volunteers found that all the migrants were wearing orange life jackets and that their boat's engine had started to work again.

The volunteers then attempted to contact Pemba to see if their instructions had changed, however their calls were not answered. 

“What was strange is that when we left them (after the first flight) they were drifting and when we came back the second time, they were making their way north with P52 trailing about 10 miles behind them, never interacting,” 

“It was like they were hanging around to see that they could make it into Italian waters and unofficially pointing them north, so to speak.” 

The migrants were eventually spotted by Italian fishermen They were picked up by the Italian coast guard and disembarked in Lampedusa early on Thursday morning. 

A spokesperson for the Armed Forces of Malta said they had no information on the incident.

Prime Minister Robert Abela has recently said that authorities would intervene in migrant rescues only in "life or death" situations. 

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