Rescue aircraft Moonbird is back in business, months after its operations had been blocked by the Maltese government.

Although the plane's operations were formally blocked in July, Moonbird had not been allowed to fly since the end of May.

The plane is now back in duty, though not from Malta. In a statement issued on Wednesday,  rescue NGO Sea-Watch, which operates the plane in cooperation with the Swiss Humanitarian Pilots Initiative, said the plane would be operating from a new base, which it did not name, “to bear witness of Europe’s deadly border policy and to call for rescue where needed”.

It said that with the crackdown on civil sea rescue, the death rate at Europe’s sea border reached a record high of one in five migrants dying while trying to cross.

Sea-Watch said that most civil rescue assets were blocked or confiscated and governmental sea rescue agencies were not well-functioning.

The NGO has repeatedly insisted that there was no legal basis for the Maltese government to stop the plane’s operations. 

The MV Lifeline has been held up in Malta since June, after rescuing 233 migrants. The Sea Watch 3 and a third migrant rescue vessel - the Seefuchs – are also facing the same fate. In denying civil rescue vessels permission to leave its ports, Malta cited concerns about ship registration anomalies.

What made the current situation worse was that no control centre was effectively taking care of the coordination of distress cases. Merchant vessels often actively avoided being in a position to rescue as they feared they would run into trouble, since Europe closed its port to vessels that had rescued migrants or refugees in maritime distress.

“We will not back down from challenging Europe’s policy of leaving people to drown. Our mission became more important than ever, now that the Mediterranean Sea has turned into a deadly black box in which not only human rights are violated on a daily basis, but also men, women and children disappear without anyone taking notice.

"This is why we will do everything in our hands to give evidence and to enforce rescue,” Moonbird initiator Ruben Neugebauer said.

Sea-Watch said the new operation is much more complex in logistics and more expensive than it used to be from Malta. However, the aircraft would be able to cover a big part of the central Mediterranean Search and Rescue area.

The aircraft had been involved in the rescue of almost 20,000 people.

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