Updated 5.51pm with NGOs' appeal.
A migrant boat adrift in Malta’s search and rescue zone is taking in water with those on board in dire need of help, according to an NGO.
Alarm Phone on Sunday tweeted that a boat of 47 migrants in distress had run out of fuel and been drifting in Malta’s SAR zone for more than two days.
“The people in distress told us: 'We are so tired, the situation is like hell. The boat lost so much air, water is coming inside. We are dying. No water, no food. Some people lost consciousness. Come save us please. We are close to death.’,”the NGO tweeted.
The Malta government last week followed Italy’s lead and closed ports to rescued migrants, citing concerns over the risk of the spread of COVID-19 and the fact that the forces of law and order were otherwise engaged on duties related to containment of the virus.
At least two vessels, carrying 119 people in all, are currently stranded in Malta's search-and-rescue area.
We are monitoring boats - AFM sources
Sources in the armed forces say they are poised to intervene should migrant boats in and around Maltese waters be at risk of capsizing.
“We are ready to intervene should a boat be in dire need. That is the direction we have been given at this point,” an AFM source involved in search and rescue said.
AFM sources said a number of other boats had left the coast of Libya over the past few days and the situation was expected to get "increasingly more complicated".
All persons in distress within Malta’s SAR zone should be rescued & their safety should always be guaranteed. Saving lives & ensuring their disembarkation at a safe place is a fundamental legal obligation and also a moral imperative that can in no way be negotiated or renounced. pic.twitter.com/gIhbLplFDU— Bishop CJ Scicluna (@BishopScicluna) April 12, 2020
Times of Malta reached out to the AFM for an official comment.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Robert Abela said the decision to close ports was not racially motivated.
Claims of shipwrecked migrants
Alarm Phone has also tweeted that a migrant boat had capsized over the weekend.
However, when contacted on Sunday the NGO said it was still collecting information on the alleged incident and could not provide any further details.
The AFM did not respond when contacted.
NGOs plead for rescue
Meanwhile, group of NGOs appealed to the prime minister to rescue the migrants and open the harbours.
"We urgently call on the Prime Minister to ensure that all persons within Malta’s responsibility are rescued and that their safety is guaranteed. The nation cannot quietly celebrate Easter whilst men, women and children are drowning on our doorstep. Saving lives and ensuring their disembarkation at a safe place is a fundamental legal obligation and also a moral imperative that can in no way be negotiated or renounced," the NGOs said.
We’re supporting Xandru and Lara as they sit at Castille urging Malta to rescue men, women and children stranded out at sea.— aditus foundation (@aditusNGO) April 12, 2020
Well done to these brave young activists! pic.twitter.com/2rb7Smwmww
"We also reiterate our message of two days ago: Malta must revoke its decision to close its ports to persons rescued at sea, whoever they are."
The statement was signed by aditus foundation, African Media Association Malta, Association for Justice, Equality and Peace, Blue Door English, The Critical Institute, Cross Culture International Foundation.
The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants, Integra Foundation, Isles of the Left, Jesuit Refugee Service (Malta), KOPIN, Malta Emigrants’ Commission, Migrant Women Association Malta, Moviment Graffitti, Office of the Dean – Faculty for Social Wellbeing, University of Malta, People for Change Foundation, SOS Malta, Spark15, Sudanese Migrants Association and the Syrian Solidarity in Malta.
Secretariat Assistenza Soċjali, Paolo Freire institute, St. Jeanne Antide foundation, Fondazjoni Sebħ, Church homes for the elderly and Malta Association of Social Workers.