Italian Interior Minister Maroni has criticised Malta for failing to immediately deploy rescue ships to assist the migrant boat that sank near Lampedusa. The Armed Forces of Malta said that the migrant boat did not capsize until after two Italian coast guard boats had responded and were on scene attempting to render assistance. The AFM said the first call for assistance was received Wednesday at 0025, the Rescue Co-ordination Centre of the AFM notified Italian Coast Guard headquarters in Rome and NATO headquarter in Naples at 0120, two Italian coast guard boats and an Italian fishing vessel, the Cartagine, were on scene by 0416, and the migrant boat capsized around 0535. The migrant boat was closer to Italian territory than to Malta, but was located within Malta’s large Search and Rescue Area. Italy and Malta have had past disputes over the boundaries of the SAR with Italy calling for the Maltese SAR to be reduced in size.
The Secretary-General of International Maritime Organization, Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, issued a statement saying that “[i]t was ironic that the devastating news of this latest tragedy reached us while we were holding a [Legal Committtee] meeting with representatives of Italy and Spain to consider what measures countries in the Mediterranean Basin should take to deal with the increasing number of persons leaving north African and eastern Mediterranean countries to seek refuge in Europe.”
The statement also said that “IMO is in contact with Italy, Malta and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The [Legal Committee] meeting mentioned above was hosted by IMO and held against a background of increasing movement of persons by sea for political and socio-economic reasons or as a result of armed conflict. It was part of an on-going process aimed at improving existing provisions for rescuing migrants at sea and disembarking them at a place of safety, in accordance with the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR Convention) and the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS Convention).”
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