Prime Minister Joseph Muscat this morning denied that there was any 'horse-trading' with the Italian government  before it agreed to take 102 migrants who were stranded on a tanker that was prevented from approaching the Maltese coast.

A separate group of 86 migrants arrived in Malta a few hours after the impasse was resolved.

Dr Muscat said when questioned this morning that the two cases were completely separate. The incident involving the group of 86 migrants developed several hours  the impasse regarding the tanker was resolved. Malta, he said, had a duty to rescue the 86 migrants and bring them to shore this morning because they were in distress.

He said he did not wish to enter into the merits of the Italian government's decision to allow the tanker Salamis, which rescued the group of 102 migrants off Libya on Sunday night, to proceed to Syracuse. However he pointed out that the Italian authorities were involved in this operation from the outset, having been the first to receive the distress call from the migrants.

He said that it had been important for Malta to hold firm by refusing to allow the tanker to disembark the migrants on the island, since this would have otherwise changed the parameters of international maritime law. The migrants, he said, were not in distress on the tanker and Malta was therefore not obliged to receive them.

The case, he said, was not expected to have negative repercussions for Malta because the island had observed international law.

He said the ship should have taken the migrants to Koms in Libya, which was the harbour from which it had departed and which was therefore a safe port.

Furthermore, he said, Libya was always ready to receive the migrants.

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