Italy and Malta Reject to Give a Safe Harbour to the 11 Rescued by the Aquarius

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New slamming of Malta and Italy to the ship Aquarius,  operated by Sos Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières, who  rescued 11 people , ten adults and a minor, who were on board  a small boat in distress in international waters in front of the coast of Libya- The ship is still waiting for indications to be able to provide them with a safe place to disembark while continuing with their tasks of searching for boats in danger at sea.

The chief of the rescue of the humanitarian ship contacted the Italian and Maltese authorities on Thursday after showing his refusal to hand over the survivors to a Libyan patrol boat, something that both organizations have rejected as they consider that the neighbouring country is not a Safe Harbor. According to their operations log, Malta’s maritime center replied that it is neither the “competent authority” nor the “adequate” one to provide Aquarius with a safe place.

For its part, Italy has replied that it will not assign a port since it “did not coordinate” the rescue operation. In his fierce battle against rescue NGOs, on Monday, the Interior Minister, the far right Matteo Salvini, has returned to ensure that the rescue vessel will not be able to dock in the Italian ports. “The Aquarius 2, new name and new flag (first Gibraltar and now Panama), has recovered a dozen people in Libyan waters, a few miles from the coast, but has refused to cooperate with the Coast Guard of Tripoli”, He wrote in a message on the Twitter social network. “Now sail in the Mediterranean: it will not have space in the Italian ports,” he adds.

According to the story of the NGOs, the operation took place around nine in the morning of this Thursday, when, while patrolling Mediterranean waters, they spotted a small ship in danger plastic. The boat was packed and making water, so many of its occupants have been exposed to fuel, which usually causes skin burns by reaction with salt water.

The organizations indicate that before the rescue, they tried unsuccessfully to contact the Libyan authorities, after which they proceeded to rescue the boat. They also warned the Italian, Maltese and Tunisian maritime authorities, “both organizations explained, claiming that at first they only responded from the rescue coordination center in Rome, which he said would inform the Libyan authorities.

Subsequently, according to the e-mails exchanged, Libya told Aquarius to transfer the survivors to one of its patrol boats, which the humanitarian vessel refused to consider that the neighbouring country is not a safe port to disembark the vessels. survivors in accordance with international law.

“I have every reason to believe that a transfer operation would endanger the safety of the rescued people and my crew due to the risk of panic,” they maintain from the Aquarius in an email sent to Libya and to the Maltese and Italian authorities. After the refusal, the Libyan authorities responded to the NGOs that contacted other rescue coordination centers or their flagship state.

“Libya is not a safe place and therefore people can not return there,” says MSF. Human rights NGOs have documented numerous abuses, torture and exploitation towards the migrant population in the neighbouring country, where they are returned by Libyan agents.

The survivors are 10 men and an unaccompanied minor who claim to come from Pakistan and Côte d’Ivoire. It is unknown, for now, what will be the fate of these people, who are now on board the ship. Before the closure of the Italian ports last June, the rescue devices were usually coordinated by the Italian coastguards, and when a small number of people were assisted, they were usually transferred to other ships, which transported them to a safe harbour.

The organizations that operate the humanitarian vessel and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)   have called on European governments  to reach an agreement that “provides clarity and predictability” on where ships can land after a rescue to avoid that they remain days “wandering” in the sea with people rescued on board, as it has happened to the Aquarius on two occasions since the first closure of ports, on June 10.

It is the first rescue operation carried out by the humanitarian vessel after the arrival on August 15 of 141 people disembarked in Malta after spending three days at sea waiting for instructions. The Maltese authorities finally assigned a safe harbour after six countries, including Spain, reached an agreement to distribute the rescued people.

The following day, the ship left for Marseilles to clarify the situation after the obstacles of the Gibraltarian authorities, who decided to withdraw the flag to the ship, alleging that it was registered as a research vessel. During the trip, they helped five Tunisian migrants who were finally transferred to a Tunisian authorities vessel after the rejection of France, Malta and Italy. “The five survivors decided to return to Tunisia due to the lack of other options,” they explained. After a month moored in the French port, last Saturday, the salvage ship returned to the waters of the Mediterranean to resume its rescue work waving a new flag, that of Panama.

The Aquarius is the only humanitarian boat that, for the moment, is in the area following the constant obstacles imposed by Italy and Malta to the work of organizations with rescue missions, the harassment of the Libyan authorities and the pressure of the European Union. Although the number of people arriving in Europe through the Mediterranean has declined, the death rate has risen, according to a recent UNHCR report, which attributed this increase to increased support for Libyan patrol boats and obstacles to NGOs.

Italy and Malta Reject to Give a Safe Harbour to the 11 Rescued by the Aquarius

The reduction in search and rescue capacity on the Libyan coast with respect is much less than it was a year ago when eight NGOs rescued 39,000 refugees and migrants. “The presence of vessels of NGOs and others operating in international waters close to the Libyan territorial waters is now also essential to detect the ships that need to be rescued,” UNHCR points out.



Source: El Diario