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Malta refuses to refuel migrant rescue ship on search and rescue operation

MALTA struck another blow on the civil rescue fleet, this time refusing to refuel a French NGO migrant rescue ship on its way to the central Mediterranean.  

The Ocean Viking, a large vessel jointly operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee, had a pre-arranged refuelling stop scheduled with the Maltese authorities last night.  

But the island nation reneged on the deal when the ship entered its territorial waters. 

An MSF spokesperson told the Star the reason for this appears to be “due to the nature of our search and rescue operations but MSF and our partner SOS Mediterranee are working to establish the facts underlying this decision.

“It would be highly irregular for a vessel to be denied such services simply due to the ship’s humanitarian mission to save lives and we hope that this is not reflective of the Maltese government’s position.”

Despite the setback, the Ocean Viking is now heading to the central Mediterranean to conduct its search and rescue mission as planned. 

NGOs are crucial to saving lives at sea, especially at a time when the situation in Libya is rapidly deteriorating, UN refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesman Charlie Yaxley told the Star today. 

“We cannot afford a repeat of what we saw just weeks ago when nearly 150 people died in a shipwreck attempting to flee Libya,” he said.  

“The UNHCR calls on states to lift the legal and logistical restrictions being placed on NGOs. They should not be criminalised or stigmatised for saving lives.”

Meanwhile, Spanish NGO Open Arms ship entered its eighth day stranded at sea today. 

The ship is carrying 121 shipwrecked migrants on board, including 36 children who have nowhere to go after both Italy and Malta refused to give it a port of safety this week.   

In a video posted on Open Arms’ Twitter feed, the ship’s captain Anabel Montes said: “It is increasingly difficult to explain to people on board why they cannot land in a safe harbour where they are not in danger. Politics cannot come before people.”

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