The NGO Sea-Eye, which operates the Alan Kurdi rescue ship, has called on Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and AFM Commander Jeffrey Curmi to order the immediate disembarkation of the migrants rescued from a sinking wooden boat in Malta’s search and rescue zone last week.
In a judicial protest filed in court on Friday, Sea-Eye said it had rescued the migrants from a boat that was taking in a lot of water and which was only 10 centimetres above sea level.
It explained that it had taken the decision to rescue the migrants because they were clearly in danger and in distress and was expecting Malta to assume its responsibilities and allow the disembarkation of migrants rescued in its search and rescue area.
Sea-Eye said it was patrolling the area south of Malta at around 8.30am on August 31 when it spotted a small boat with people on board some three nautical miles away. The wooden boat was taking in water and was evidently sinking so the ship’s captain ordered that two of its emergency dinghies approach the boats to verify.
“There were 13 men on board and they were in critical condition because the boat was sinking with the potential danger that they drown lose their lives. No one knew whether the men could swim and there were no life vests on board so a decision was taken to immediately rescue the men and transfer them onto the boats,” Sea-Eye said in its protest.
Since the Alan Kurdi and the wooden boat were in Malta’s search and rescue area, the captain informed Malta’s Search and Rescue Coordination Centre about the situation. At 9.36am, Malta’s authorities informed the captain that they were not considering this to be a rescue operation but simply as the transfer of individuals from one boat to another since the boat was heading towards Lampedusa.
The official also ordered the Alan Kurdi not to take anyone on board.
However, the rescue operation, which at that point had already taken place, could not be postponed because of the dire situation in which the migrants and their vessel were. Failing to rescue them could have cost them their lives, Sea-Eye said.
It said the Maltese authorities accused the Alan Kurdi of taking a unilateral decision and had intercepted a boat that was sailing towards its planned destination. The authorities therefore refused to assist and directed the Alan Kurdi to establish contact with its flagged state.
Sea-Eye, however, said the position taken by the Maltese authorities was incorrect and that it was following the established conventions which define a rescue as “an operation to retrieve persons in distress, provide for their initial medical or other needs and deliver them to a place of safety”.
Moreover, according to the Laws of the Sea, it was legally bound to offer assistance and rescue anyone in clear distress at sea.
Sea-Eye said the situation on board the Alan Kurdi was quickly deteriorating as many other those rescue required immediate medical attention. Two of them were already transferred to Malta on Thursday. It therefore called on Dr Muscat and Brigadier Curmi to order the immediate disembarkation of the migrants on board the Alan Kurdi, holding them responsible in default.
The judicial protest was filed by Cedric Mifsud and Gianluca Cappitta.
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