Updated at 7pm
Eleven migrants rescued off the coast of Libya by a Spanish fishing boat were brought to Malta on Sunday, ending a protracted standoff to find a safe port for the boat.
The nine men and two minors were transferred from the Nuestra Madre de Loreto to an AFM vessel when it was 13 nautical miles off Malta and disembarked at Haywharf.
They were then transferred to Spain following talks between the two countries, the government said.
The fishing vessel was told to head to Malta by the Spanish government, which said that rather than making the long journey to Spain, the boat should head to the nearest safe port.
“From the beginning, the government has worked to ensure the boat, which is in international waters, goes to a safe and nearby port,” Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said in a statement on Sunday.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists go to the polls on Sunday in a key regional election in Andalusia, the main entry point for migrants making the dangerous sea crossing to Spain. Immigration has been a major focus of the campaign, while a surging far right is predicted to win its first seats since the 1970s.
El Gobierno indica ahora a #NuestraMadreLoreto que ponga rumbo a Malta. Tarde, mal y sin escrúpulos. Jugando con la seguridad de las personas, 10 días sin noticias, un temporal duro, una persona evacuada en helicóptero y un alto riesgo para toda la tripulación. #United4Med pic.twitter.com/Qnwwba0GYJ— Oscar Camps (@campsoscar) December 2, 2018
The fishing boat, Santa Madre de Loreto, rescued 12 migrants in international waters off the coast of Libya 10 days ago. Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms has been assisting the boat and migrants aboard, who it says would not have been safe if they were returned to Libya.
“The government now says #Santa Madre de Loreto should head to Malta. Late, wrong and unscrupulous. Playing with the security of people who have gone 10 days without news, amid a rough storm, and with one person rescued by helicopter and a high risk for the whole crew,” Oscar Camps, founder of Proactiva Open Arms, wrote on Twitter on Sunday morning.