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MALTA has finally agreed this evening to allow an NGO migrant rescue ship with five survivors on board to enter its ports, putting an end to yet another humanitarian stand-off in the Mediterranean Sea.
Ten days ago, the Alan Kurdi — a vessel operated by the German charity Sea Eye — rescued 13 young men from a flimsy wooden boat in the central Mediterranean inside waters that Malta is supposed to operate search and rescue missions in.
However, the Maltese authorities refused to allow the ship to enter its ports and the Alan Kurdi remained in international waters near the island nation.
Eight migrants were evacuated from the ship last week with serious medical conditions. Two minors among them had attempted to kill themselves by jumping over board.
“Sea-Eye is happy to confirm that the remaining five people on board the Alan Kurdi have been allowed to disembark in Malta,” Sea Eye spokesman Simon Pompe told the Star.
“They will be distributed to EU states.
“We want to stress that this solution came too late and at too high a price.
“Sea-Eye had filed a complaint with a Maltese Court. The originally 13 people were, undisputedly, rescued in the Maltese zone of responsibility for co-ordinating the disembarkation and rescue.
“However, Malta had denied that responsibility continuously, instead referring to the Alan Kurdi’s flag state Germany. Therefore, the legal tool of a complaint at court was supposed to legally determine the jurisdiction of the Maltese authorities.
“Then, Malta approached Sea Eye through the European Commission with the ‘offer’ of letting the five people disembark, provided Sea-Eye withdraws its complaint.
“Clearly, the court complaint made Malta uncomfortable, as it would have plainly showcased Malta’s inexplicable refusal to coordinate the operation.
“Considering the humanitarian need for a safe harbour and the dire state of the rescued people, Sea-Eye accepted. Many crew members call this blackmail.
“Let us be clear: no one disputed that the incident happened in Malta’s zone of responsibility.
“The fact that Malta chose to disregard the rule of law and shy away from its own court for political reasons is scandalous. Malta has an unfortunate history of pressuring civil rescue organisations to stop them from their work. The latest incident is a new low.
“While civil organisations are often unjustly accused of disregarding international rules, Malta has apparently no scruples of ignoring its legal responsibility.
“We are equally disappointed in the new Italian government, who maintain Salvini’s hard line of closed ports and have offered no help.
Yesterday, the Alan Kurdi’s head of mission called on Italy, France, Spain and Portugal for help for the five remaining migrants.
The Italian coastguard was quick to respond.
“Sir,” reads the coastguard’s message to the ship, “be advised that according with the national decree dated August 31 2019 … you are not authorised to enter, transit and stop at sea in Italian national waters.”
Days before the coastguard confirmed that Mr Salvini’s €1,000,000 (£893,577) fine was still in place for NGOs that define the ban.
Elsewhere in the Mediterranean the Ocean Viking, operated jointly by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee, rescued 34 migrants from a sailing ship during a storm last night off the coast of Libya.
The Ocean Viking, which on Sunday rescued 50 people, including 12 minors and one pregnant woman, remains at sea since no European government has answered its calls for a port of safety.
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