Updated 11.10pm

The MT Salamis, which has been drifting outside Maltese territorial waters since yesterday, is expected to take the 102 rescued migrants on board to Italy, sources said tonight.

The development follows diplomatic efforts by the Government.

This afternoon, the Government filed a judicial protest against the tanker, which has been refused entry.

The tanker, which rescued the immigrants on Sunday night, disobeyed Maltese Government orders to head back to Libya.

Earlier today, the European Commission said the migrants should disembark in Malta and sending them to Libya was against international law.

But National Security Minister Manuel Mallia told a news conference later he told EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom that Malta was in line with its international legal obligations.

“What we have is a captain who ignored his international obligations. This captain disregarded the directions given by Rome Rescue Centre and the Armed Forces of Malta. He disregarded the orders of a sovereign state… Government’s position is clear. That ship will not enter territorial waters, he said.

Earlier, a spokesman for Ms Malmstrom said during the European Commission’s EU briefing that the master of the Salamis had fulfilled his humanitarian duties, the ship was now closest to Malta and it was first and foremost important to save the lives of the rescued persons.

She said it was the humanitarian duty of the Maltese authorities to allow these persons to disembark.

But Dr Mallia said the Maltese government gave Ms Malmstrom the facts, which she did not have correctly, after the briefing.

“We do not agree with the Commission's position that if ship returns to Libya Malta will breach international law.

“Nobody expects the Commission to take any action against a sovereign state for safeguarding its rights,” he said,

Dr Mallia said this was not an immigration issue but a rescue operation. The closest safe port was Libya from where the ship left. But for commercial reasons, the ship ignored everything else and sailed towards Malta.

“We cannot allow such an exception. There is no emergency on board the ship,” he stressed.

Earlier today, a Government spokesman said Malta sent army medics on board the tanker Salamis to assess the situation.

The army also supplied food and water to the migrants, one of whom is said to have suffered a fractured toe. Army medics boarded the ship for the first time yesterday evening and concluded medical evacuations were not necessary.

Dr Mallia said he expected the EU to support Malta given that it has reports from two member states explaining the facts.

“As a sovereign state we cannot give in to the barefaced breach of international law by this captain. There is a principle at stake that cannot be breached.”

The European Commissioner said during the briefing that any dispute about the responsible search and rescue authority, including the involvement of the Italian and Libyan authorities, as well as the right place of disembarkation did not help the persons in immediate need and these issues should be clarified at a later stage.

"At this point in time, it is the humanitarian duty of the Maltese authorities to allow these persons to disembark. Sending the ship back to Libya would be contrary to international law. The master of the ship has dispatched an urgent medical request as the injured woman needs immediate hospitalisation.

"The Commission therefore urges Malta to let these persons disembark as soon as possible."

Some time later Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted:

"#Malta fulfils int'l obligations but can't be expected to step in for irresponsible shipowners flouting rules for commercial purposes -JM". A few minutes later, he added "#Malta in possession of evidence showing #Salamis ignored search+rescue rules and #Italy instructions because of commercial considerations.

The Government last night sent a letter signed by the Attorney General to Trevor Sullivan, the local agent of the tanker, holding him responsible for any damages Malta may suffer.

The tanker, which was carrying gasoil, picked up the migrants near Libya and disobeyed orders to turn back and take them to the closest safe port of call, which was in Libya. Instead, he headed on to its destination, which was Malta, the Government claims.

The ship's company, Mantinia Shipping, is insisting the tanker was never instructed by the Italian, or any authority, to proceed to a Libyan port.

Yesterday evening, it appealed to the Italian and Maltese authorities to "urgently provide clear instructions for disembarkation of the rescued people" four of whom were pregnant and required medical assistance.

According to the ship’s master, those rescued also include a baby and 20 women, one of them injured.

In its letter, the Government called on the ship's master to proceed to that location which represented the nearest place of safety at the time of rescue and to make arrangements with the competent local authorities of that place to disembark the rescued persons without further delay.

See also here.

AD CALLS FOR HUMAN SOLIDARITY

In a statement this afternoon, Alternattiva Demokratika noted the game being played by Malta, Italy, Libya and the EU - a game which, it said, disrespected human rights.

Chairman Arnold Cassola said that while no country wanted to give in to appear strong with the racist and intolerant elements in the 28 EU states, the immigrants were in the middle of the situation not knowing whether they were to be sent back to where their life was under threat.

While each EU country, some 22 of which were led by socialists and democrats, issued notices that Libya was not safe, there were those who expected the immigrants to be sent back to Libya.

The Prime Minister and the Opposition were playing for the gallery when they support one another for Malta and Italy to wash their hand of their humanitarian responsibilities.

AD Home Affairs spokesman Carmel Cacopardo said that in the circumstances both Malta and Italy should take a humanitarian stand, with the support of the EU, since Libya was not to be trusted.

In view of the developing situation, he said, Malta only had one choice ahead of it - that of human solidarity.

Schedule of events given by Brig. Martin Xuereb

Sunday 10.36pm

Ship sent email to AFM coordination centre that it was heading towards Marsaxlokk to avoid delaying the cargo, which would have caused a commercial problem.

10.45pm

AFM insisted the captain had to obey international law. Captain Leopoldo Manna was informed that if he continued towards Malta, no permission to enter Mlata would be given.

11.10pm

Operations centre prepared contingency plans so as not to allow the ship to enter territorial waters.

Monday 12.25am

Captain was informed again that no permission to enter Malta would be given. He said he had orders from ship owners to proceed.

1.30am

The ship was 36 nautical miles off Malta. Further warnings were given by AFM.

4am

AFM ordered ship not to enter territorial waters and stopped 24 nautical miles out.

6am

Ship made contact with Valletta port control saying that a passenger was injured.

7am

AFM medics boarded the ship and found that one passenger had a hand injury.

9am

Captain sent email to AFM asking for water supplies.

9.45am

Maltese agents informed ship it was not authorised to enter Malta and should return migrants to Libya.

4.50pm

Captain informed authorities that teh health situation on the ship was deteriorating and asked for water and food supplies.

5.26pm

Ship owners sent email to Malta, Rome and the European Commissioner with their side of the story, which the minister said was not completely true.

8.33pm

AFM soldiers boarded the ship to assess the medical situation of an injured person and for the first time the patient was identified as the mother of a 10-month-old baby.

Tuesday (today) 1.05pm

Helicopter with medical official went on site. Report is being evaluated by hospital staff this afternoon.

3.20pm

Melita rescue launch supplied food, water and life jackets to ship.

UNHCR EXPRESSES CONCERN, CALLS FOR QUICK AND PRACTICAL SOLUTION

In a statement this evening, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said it is concerned about the impasse that has left the immigrants, many of them reportedly Eritreans, aboard the tanker.

It called for a quick and practical solution to enable the safe and rapid disembarkation for the people rescued, including to determine international protection needs.

The organisation said that the current situation in Libya was well documented in recent reports, including as regards discrimination and abuse affecting people originating from sub-Saharan Africa.

“UNHCR considers that return of asylum-seekers to this situation is not an option.”

It welcomed the continued efforts of the Italian and Maltese authorities to rescue boats in distress in the Mediterranean and commended the shipmaster for saving lives at sea in line with obligations under international maritime law.

However, it was concerned that the longstanding tradition of saving lives at sea by vessels of all categories could be at risk because of contention between states as to where those rescued were disembarked.

“It should be a collective priority for all involved to ensure that asylum-seekers seeking protection are not exposed to further hardship as a result of disagreement on disembarkation.”

It reiterated its global call to shipmasters and coastal countries to carry out their duty of rescuing persons in distress at sea and to cooperate closely in enabling disembarkation.

“UNHCR stands ready to provide all possible support in this regard.”

It called for active consideration of concrete responsibility sharing measures, and urged other EU countries to strengthen solidarity with countries such as Malta at the EU’s external border.

“The current deadlock demonstrates the need to develop a regional framework to strengthen cooperation and coordination among states and others implicated in rescue at sea operations,” it said.

MALTESE AUTHORITIES MUST URGENTLY ALLOW IMMIGRANTS TO DISEMBARK - AMNESTY

In a separate statement, Amnesty International said the Maltese authorities must urgently the immigrants to disembark.

"The Maltese authorities have a humanitarian duty to ensure the safety and well-being of those rescued. They must allow the boat to disembark in Malta and its passengers to be given any necessary medical treatment, as well as a chance to apply for asylum.

"Otherwise, the highest price may be paid by the women, men and children who may have to spend another night at sea with the fear of being sent back to Libya," Amnesty's deputy director for Europe and Central Asia Jezerca Tigani said.

Ms Tigani said the Maltese government was wasting precious time in refusing to disembark people in immediate need.

"Amnesty International considers that no passenger onboard MV Salamis should be removed to Libya. This would violate the international prohibition against removing anyone to a place where they would face a real risk of ill-treatment or other serious human rights abuses," the organisation said.

 

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