Rescue ship with 629 migrants left in limbo

Cheryl Sanders
June 14, 2018

In a statement late on Sunday, the government said Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, and the Prime Minister of Italy, Giuseppe Conte, had a telephone conversation on the developing situation of the vessel Acquarius. "USA authorities are coordinating with our global partners to determine their ultimate disposition", she added.

Sophie Beau, head of French charity SOS Mediterranee, which charters the vessel, said its missions will continue "as long as there are people drowning in the Mediterranean, as long as we have the resources, and as long as we are able to act and we are not kicked out of the area".

Malta refused to take the ship, saying it was Italy's responsibility as the rescue was overseen by the Italian coastguard.

In the meantime Conte said that Italy has sent two patrol ships with doctors on board "ready to intervene and ensure the health of anyone on board the Aquarius who might have the need".

Eric Ciotti, a prominent hard-right minister from the Opposition Republicans party, also called on the government to take a tough line on the Aquarius.

Italy's hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini, in a joint statement with Danilo Toninelli, minister in charge of the Italian coastguard, insisted that Malta "cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise global conventions on the protection of human life".

A European Union summit later this month is due to consider changes to asylum law to better share the burden of incoming migrants.

Italy has taken in more than 600,000 migrants from the sea since 2014, according to Reuters, with about 13,706 sea arrivals so far this year - a significant decrease from recent years. "I am happy to have given a small, first response".

By law, it would have been hard for Italy to refuse the boat a safe haven, as its own Coast Guard co-ordinated the rescues, picking up more than 280 migrants in its own vessels before transferring them to the Aquarius to be taken to safety.

Fresh provisions - including 950 bottles of water, 800 boxes of noodles and snacks, blankets, hats and socks - were delivered to the Aquarius on Tuesday, the charity said.

Antoine Laurent said on Monday it would take at least two more days for the vessel to make it there and that "is not possible today with 629 people on board".

Italy's stance has triggered a war of words with its European allies, with France in particular accusing it of being "irresponsible".

However, charities questioned why the coast guard boat was being allowed to dock in Italy, while migrants on the Aquarius, who had been at sea for longer, were not.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told reporters in Berlin on Monday: "We are concerned about the situation on this ship, the Aquarius, and the German government calls on all involved to do justice to their humanitarian responsibility".

Malta's government replied saying Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had spoken to Italian premier Giuseppe Conte and underlined "that Malta is acting in full conformity with its global obligations".

The new Spanish foreign minister said the decision to offer a docking port in the eastern city of Valencia had been a "personal and direct" move by the country's new prime minister, the Socialist Pedro Sanchez. Viktor Orban said his initial reaction to the news was a sigh of "Finally!"

Other reports by iNewsToday