Malta’s ports will not take in the Acquarius vessel with hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers on board, which has been stranded in the Mediterranean after the Italian authorities had refused to accept it.
Since Friday, the German branch of the SOS Mediterranee NGO has been rescuing migrants and asylum seekers in the Mediterranean and taking them on board Acquarius.
The vessel, now carrying 629 people, has been ordered by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center late on Sunday to stand put 35 nautical miles from Italy and 27 nautical miles from Malta. Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Monday: “I took a call from Italy PM Giuseppe Conte to discuss Acquarius issue. Malta is in full conformity with international obligations and will not take the vessel in its ports.
“We will continue, where possible, carrying out individual & humanitarian emergency medical evacuations,” Muscat wrote on Twitter. The Maltese prime minister also expressed concern over the Italian authorities’ directions given to the Acquarius vessel, adding that such policies contradicted international norms, and might lead to dangerous developments. The rescuers say those on board Acquarius include 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children, and 7 pregnant women. Under the international law, people rescued in the sea should be brought to the closest and safest port for assistance.
The Maltese authorities have been insisting that since the rescue happened in the Libyan search and rescue area and was coordinated from Rome, Malta is neither the coordinating authority nor has the competence to settle this issue, thus it would not take in the migrants and asylum seekers. Local media have been suggesting that by instructing Acquarius to stand by its current position in deep waters, new Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who had been criticizing NGOs for carrying out the role of taxis for migrants, has started implementing anti-migrant policies.