Ship boat

Rejected by Malta, rescue ship seeks safe harbor

The Sea-Eye 4 civilian rescue vessel, carrying 87 migrants, was refused permission to enter a port in Malta over the weekend and continued on to southern Italy in hopes to be able to land there.

The German Sea-Eye 4 vessel has spent days waiting off Malta after rescuing 87 migrants from the country’s search and rescue zone in the Mediterranean a week ago.

When the ship’s request was finally rejected by the Maltese authorities, she left for Sicily. As of this writing on Monday morning, it was just off the coast of southern Sicily, not far from the port of Ragusa, according to the Vessel Finder website.

On board Sea-Eye 4, German Green MP Julian Pahlke wrote on Twitter on Sunday about the Maltese response to the ship’s request for a safe harbor: “What is Malta doing? They say they don’t are not responsible and that the ship should be heading for its home port of Regensburg in southern Germany.

Regensburg, where Sea-Eye is headquartered, is a landlocked city on the Danube, north of Munich.

SAR Responsibilities

Malta, an EU member state since 2004, is located between Sicily and the North African coast. Most migrants crossing the central Mediterranean to Europe have to pass through Malta’s search and rescue region.

The island state has signed the International Convention for Search and Rescue at Sea, which divides the world’s oceans into 13 SAR zones. But rescue organizations have repeatedly accused it of refusing to let them dock at its ports, forcing them to continue to southern Italy.

Malta toughened its stance on search and rescue in 2020: it coordinated several returns to Libya with the help of the Libyan Coast Guard, resulting in the death of migrants. In April 2020, the Maltese government said it could no longer “guarantee the rescue of ‘banned immigrants’ on board any boat, vessel or other vessel, nor ensure the availability of a ‘place of safety’ within Maltese territory to anyone rescued at sea.”

Here, migrants are rescued by the Italian coast guard in the southwest of the island of Lampedusa | Photo: Francisco Seco / picture alliance / AP Photo

Claims of “refoulement”

From around May 2020, the migrant hotline Alarm Phone said it observed fewer rescues by Malta’s armed forces and more migrants being illegally returned (“pushed back”) to Libya, according to a report published in the Malta weather.

“We find that the AFM does not come out at all to the aid of boats in distress in the Maltese search and rescue area, south of Lampedusa. Instead, they rely on merchant ships and the Libyan coast guard to push the boat people back to Libya,” Alarm Phone’s Britta Rabe told the Maltese newspaper.

The NGO also said Malta was using aerial surveillance to prevent boats from entering the island’s search and rescue zone, under an agreement between Malta and Italy in 2020.

Migrants rescued by Geo Barents land in Italy

Meanwhile, the 659 people rescued in the Mediterranean by another rescue vessel, Geo Barents, landed in Italy over the weekend. The last migrants were able to leave the ship on Saturday in the port of Taranto, the organization Médecins sans frontières (MSF) reported. Authorities assigned the ship to a safe harbor on Thursday after a long wait at sea.

MSF tweeted that they hope refugees and migrants will now receive the protection they deserve and need. The aid organization said among those on board were more than 150 minors. The migrants had been rescued in several operations over the previous days.

With dpa, epd