The Times of Malta reports that the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) and Maltese SAR authorities have rejected what they characterised as the “impression conveyed” by a UNHCR spokesperson that “Maltese SAR authorities abdicated from their responsibilities and did not cooperate with the relevant Italian authorities” in connection with the search for and subsequent rescue of 44 migrants on board a disabled boat on 9-10 November. The migrants were rescued by the Italian Navy ship Foscari and transported to Sicily, not to Lampedusa or Malta which were the two closest ports.
The AFM statement reported by the Times of Malta outlines in detail the Maltese response to the distress call from the migrant boat and Malta and Frontex’s participation in the air and sea search. The AFM statement said that “[t]he decision for the Italian Navy vessel Foscari to take the rescued migrants to an Italian port in Sicily was the result of Italian insistence that Lampedusa does not represent a place of safety for the disembarkation of migrants, despite it being a mere four hours from the position where the persons were rescued. Under the relevant legal regime applicable with the Malta SRR, the persons should have been disembarked in Lampedusa which, despite declarations to the contrary, represented the nearest place of safety.”
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The Italian Navy vessel Foscari rescued 44 migrants last night from a disabled boat that is believed to have departed from Libya about 4 days ago. Maltese media reported that the Italians wanted to disembark the rescued migrants in Malta due to the earlier decision of Italian authorities to close Lampedusa for search and rescue purposes. However Adnkronos news is reporting that the Foscari is taking the rescued migrants to Augusta, Sicily.
The first satellite phone distress call from the migrant boat was reportedly made when the boat was located within the Libyan SAR. The migrant boat was finally sighted by an Italian fishing boat last night within the Maltese SAR. The Italian Navy vessel Foscari rescued the migrants. A Somali woman and her newborn infant who was born on the migrant boat were flown by helicopter to Lampedusa for medical care. The remaining 42 rescued persons will now apparently be disembarked in Augusta some time tomorrow. 16 August was the last time a migrant boat reached Italy from Libya.
UNHCR issued a statement saying it was “grateful that the Italian navy took this initiative despite the fact that the boat was in Maltese search and rescue waters.”
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Click here for UNHCR statement.
Malta yesterday refused permission to the Italian Navy ship Borsini to land in Malta for the purpose of disembarking 334 rescued migrants. The migrants were rescued in the Maltese Search and Rescue Area south of Lampedusa on Saturday by several Italian coastguard patrol boats and transferred at sea to the Borsini. The Borsini then sailed to Malta. Malta refused permission because it said that Lampedusa or Tunisia were the closest safe locations. The Italians sought to disembark the rescued migrants at Malta because Lampedusa was overwhelmed with the arrivals of approximately 2000 migrants over the past 36 hours. The Borsini left Malta and is sailing to Taranto on the Italian mainland to disembark the migrants.
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After yesterday’s incident involving the two Libyan Air Force defectors who landed their Mirage fighter jets in Malta, Italy placed its air bases on high alert, specifically the bases at Trapani and Gioia del Colle (Bari). Italy has also deployed several naval vessels, including an electronic warfare ship, towards Libya. Italian Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa characterised the events as routine, saying there was no specific alarm, but measures needed to be taken to prepare for a possible fall of Gaddafi.
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