Updated at 7pm with AG statement
Crew members of migrant rescue ships stranded in Malta held a mock funeral in Valletta on Thursday morning, shortly before a magistrate continued hearing the case against the Lifeline ship's master.
Claus Peter Reisch stands accused of ship registration irregularities in a case which has drawn protests by international humanitarian organisations.
The captain walked slowly in front of a coffin draped with the EU flag and carried by crew members stranded in Malta, dressed in black. The 'funeral' started from Castille Place and ended in front of the law courts.
Thursday marks almost two months of "disgraceful behaviour" by Malta and other European states, which is costing more lives every day, a statement by NGOs said.
Capt. Reisch saved 235 lives during a rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea and is now being accused of doing so without a correct ship registration.
Nobody would stop the fire brigade from extinguishing a fire on land because someone thinks that maybe the license plate could be the wrong one
"Previous investigations have failed to support this claim, and we contest this attack as shameless political scapegoating in response to sea rescue NGOs highlighting failures in the EU’s migration priorities and policies. It is evident that Malta is attempting to make an example of the Lifeline, to stop NGOs from carrying out rescues."
Another clear indication of this strategy is the fact that the Sea-Watch 3 and the reconnaissance airplane Moonbird are also still being detained on Malta without any legal grounds, they said.
"In doing so, the Maltese government is leaving people to drown in the Mediterranean Sea and is responsible for every death that occurs while rescue NGOs remain chained in its ports."
Captain Pia Klemp of the Sea-Watch 3 said: “Nobody would stop the fire brigade from extinguishing a fire on land because someone thinks that maybe the license plate could be the wrong one.”
Over 1,500 migrants are believed to have died in the Mediterranean since January.
The Lifeline has been held in Grand Harbour since it arrived on June 27, carrying 234 migrants, many of whom have been shared with other EU countries.
Malta's Interior Minister apparently wants to hold rescue ships for a long time. Absurd, only certain ships should participate in rescue. MISSION LIFELINE: "This is cynical & costs human lives. This is not worthy of a seafaring nation." https://t.co/iLh1hJhKyP— MISSION LIFELINE (@SEENOTRETTUNG) August 22, 2018
Magistrate raps prosecution for delays
Meanwhile, Thursday's court sitting only lasted a few minutes after prosecuting inspector Daryl Borg informing the court that rogatory letters sent to the Dutch ship registration authorities had been returned because they had been sent on wrong forms. The Attorney General's office will have to re-send them.
Magistrate Joe Mifsud expressed his disappointment over the waste of time. He said it was not right that the captain had to attend court hearings, travelling to and fro from Germany, for nothing.
Dr Cedric Mifsud, defence counsel, pointed out that meanwhile the Lifeline was stuck in Malta at great expense.
He said the AG ought to have filed the letters correctly and this was incompetence.
"Had I done something similar, my client would probably have sought another lawyer," the lawyer said.
Magistrate Mifsud asked the prosecution to inform the court once the letters arrived. He apologised to the captain, saying he was embarrassed by this situation. Otherwise, the case would have been settled in two weeks, he added.
Attorney General insists letter was sent - but in wrong format
The Office of the Attorney General insisted that the letter of request in question was sent to the Office of the Attorney General by the Court of Magistrates for onward forwarding to the Dutch competent judicial authorities, and that this was done immediately.
However, the Dutch judicial authorities informed the Office of the Attorney General that since the introduction of the European Investigation Order (EIO), the national law of the Netherlands (not European Union law) was amended so that the competent authorities in the Netherlands now only accept EIOs and not letters of request from EU States. The Netherlands authorities therefore requested the Maltese authorities to send the request in the format of a European Investigation Order.
"The Maltese authorities took immediate action to comply with the requests of the Dutch judicial authorities in order to ensure the swiftness of the criminal proceedings in Malta," the Office said, adding that such occurrences were 'not at all uncommon' when national laws vary.
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