Tag Archives: SAR

Malta Rejects UNHCR Suggestion that Malta Failed to Carry Out SAR Obligations

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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[Post Updated 4 August] Spanish Defence Ministry: NATO Instructed Spanish Navy to Transfer Rescued Migrants to Tunisia

A press release issued yesterday by the Spanish Ministry of Defence states that the 114 migrants who were rescued by the Spanish frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón on 11 July were transferred to Tunisian authorities on 16 July pursuant to orders issued by NATO command.

I previously have sought clarification from both NATO and the Spanish Defence Ministry regarding who made the decision to turn the rescued migrants over to Tunisian authorities and what procedures, if any, were followed to screen rescued migrants before the transfer.  NATO’s Operation Unified Protector press office informed me that all inquiries had to be directed to the Spanish Defence Ministry.  The Defence Ministry’s press office in turn has ignored my inquiries.

[Update – 4 August – I received information today from Communication Office of the Spanish Ministry of Defence reiterating that the Spanish frigate was under NATO command as an asset participating in NATO’s Operation Unified Protector.  According to the Communication Office, after the Spanish frigate commander made the decision that the migrants needed to be rescued, all of the frigate’s subsequent actions were carried out pursuant to specific commands issued by the NATO command, including the final order to transfer the migrants to Tunisian authorities.  Spanish authorities were never involved in discussions or negotiations with other countries regarding the rescued migrants.  The Communication Office referred me to NATO’s OUP Press Office for information regarding any further details of the operation.  I will try again with NATO.]

The press release issued yesterday pertains to a visit made to the Spanish  frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón by Italian Rear Admiral Filippo Maria Foffi, Commander of the NATO naval task group for Operation Unified Protector, where he praised the crew of the frigate for the rescue operation.

The press release goes on to state that after the migrants were taken on board the frigate on 11 July, “on orders from NATO command, the Juan de Borbón sailed to Malta and took a position 40 miles off the coast of that country. On 16 July, instructed by the command of NATO, the Spanish frigate headed for the coast of Tunisia to start the transfer to the Tunisian Navy patrol boat Carthage of the 106 immigrants who were still on board, after the earlier evacuation of eight persons for health and medical reasons.”

(“…siguiendo órdenes del mando de la OTAN, la ‘Juan de Borbón’ puso rumbo a Malta posicionándose a 40 millas frente a las costas de ese país.  El pasado 16 de julio, siguiendo instrucciones del mando de la Alianza, se dirigió hacia las costas de Túnez para iniciar el traslado al patrullero Carthage de la Armada tunecina, de los 106 inmigrantes que aún permanecían a bordo tras la evacuación de ocho personas por motivos médicos y de salud…”)

The Spanish government and NATO are rightfully to be praised for the rescue operation.  What is unfortunate is the lack of transparency on the part of both NATO and the Spanish Defence Ministry in regard to why the decision was made to transfer the migrants to Tunisia and what procedures, if any, were used to screen the migrants for claims to international protection.

Click here for Defence Ministry Press Release. (ES)

Click here for my last post on this topic.


Filed under Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, Spain, Tunisia

Head of Armed Forces of Malta Describes Malta’s Interpretation of Its SAR Responsibilities

Brigadier Martin Xuereb, the head of the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM), spoke at a recent seminar sponsored by the European Parliament, “Europe’s new Mediterranean reality: Migration and asylum in Malta, Greece and Cyprus,” and summarised Malta’s interpretation of its search and rescue obligations.  Xuereb said that Malta is obligated to coordinate search and rescue operations within its SAR zone, but is not required to perform all rescue operations.

Xuereb said Malta believes rescued persons should be disembarked at the nearest place of safety which, given the size and location of the Maltese SAR, will sometimes mean that Italian territory, particularly Lampedusa, is closer.  Xuereb acknowledged that this interpretation is not shared by others.  Xuereb “said that Malta had consistently insisted that the arrangement that best represented the interests of rescued persons was one that saw them disembarked in the nearest place of safety.”  He said the Maltese Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) has coordinated or assisted with 54 SAR cases so far this year.

Xuereb also confirmed that Malta would continue its refusal to host Frontex joint operations because of its objections to Frontex guidelines which are based “on a number of grounds, including the fact that [the guidelines] addressed matters deemed to be outside community competence and attempted to erode the rights that Malta enjoyed under the international legal framework. … In light of these guidelines, Malta considered the hosting of [Frontex] joint operations to be detrimental to its national interest.”  Malta objects to the guidelines because it believes they would require rescued migrants to be disembarked in the country hosting the joint operation.

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Klepp, Int J Refugee Law, “A Double Bind: Malta and the Rescue of Unwanted Migrants at Sea, a Legal Anthropological Perspective on the Humanitarian Law of the Sea”

An article by Silja Klepp (Research Associate, Research Center for Sustainability Studies (artec), University of Bremen) entitled “A Double Bind: Malta and the Rescue of Unwanted Migrants at Sea, a Legal Anthropological Perspective on the Humanitarian Law of the Sea” has been published as an online advance access article by the International Journal of Refugee Law.

Abstract: “This paper discusses research results from anthropological fieldwork carried out in Malta in 2007. The island, which is situated in the central Mediterranean Sea between Tunisia, Libya and Italy, is a focal point regarding the continuing refugee situation. One of the research aims was to investigate the situation at sea concerning Search and Rescue (SAR) operations for migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean by boat. In the year 2006, 556 missing and drowned migrants were registered in the central Mediterranean between Libya, Malta and Italy, this number increased to 642 in 2008.1 The goal of the research in Malta was therefore to understand why an increasing number of migrants were dying at sea and what role the European security forces play in this context.

After introducing the research perspective of this article, background information concerning migration movements in the Mediterranean Sea between Libya, Italy and Malta in recent years is provided. Due to European regulations, which are considered unfavourable for the island, and its population density, Malta feels under pressure from migrants arriving by boat across the Mediterranean. Different concepts regarding a ‘place of safety’ to disembark rescued boat migrants are debated. The ambiguities in the responsibilities cause problems for the captains who rescue migrants in distress at sea. These ambiguities may in turn lead to a weakening of the SAR regime. Following discussion of the legal and political quarrels on the place of safety, the SAR operations at sea of the Armed Forces of Malta is analysed. The findings show that it is not merely a case of enforcing legal norms created by international law. The process is much more complex: legal gaps are filled by regional actors, through informal or even illegal practices, asserting their own claims at their convenience. Thus, transnationalization processes of law, such as the international SAR regime, are a fragmented and ambiguous set of regulations, creating space for negotiation and manoeuvre.2

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Also by Klepp from 2010, European Journal of Migration and Law: “A Contested Asylum System: The European Union between Refugee Protection and Border Control in the Mediterranean Sea.”

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Filed under Analysis, European Union, Italy, Malta, Mediterranean, UNHCR

Moreno-Lax, Int J Refugee Law, “Seeking Asylum in the Mediterranean: Against a Fragmentary Reading of EU Member States’ Obligations Accruing at Sea”

The latest edition of the International Journal of Refugee Law, contains an article by Violeta Moreno-Lax (PhD Candidate at Université catholique de Louvain; Visiting Fellow 2010-11 at Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford) entitled “Seeking Asylum in the Mediterranean: Against a Fragmentary Reading of EU Member States’ Obligations Accruing at Sea.”

Abstract: “Although both international and EU law impose a number of obligations on the EU Member States with regard to persons in distress at sea, their effective implementation is limited by the manner in which they are being interpreted. The fact that the persons concerned are migrants, who may seek asylum upon rescue, has given rise to frequent disputes and to episodes of non-compliance. Frontex missions and the Italian 2009 push-back campaign illustrate the issue. With the objective of clarifying the scope of common obligations and to establish minimum operational arrangements for joint maritime operations, the EU has adopted a set of common guidelines for the surveillance of the external maritime borders. On the basis of the principle of systemic interpretation, this article intends to contribute to the clarification of the main obligations in international and European law binding upon the EU Member States when they operate at sea.”

This is a revised and updated version of the paper presented at the 12th IASFM Conference held in Nicosia, 28 June-2 July 2009.  [The article was written and sent for typesetting before the various uprisings in North Africa – IJRL Editor, 4 March 2011]

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Filed under Analysis, Eastern Atlantic, European Court of Human Rights, European Union, Frontex, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mauritania, Mediterranean, Senegal, Spain

Italy Criticises Malta Regarding Search and Rescue Response

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).”

Click, here, here, here, and here for articles. (EN)

Click here for article. (IT)

Click here for map the SARs.

Click here for IMO Statement.

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WikiLeaks 2008 US Cable: Death of Key Libyan Official Hampers Counter-Migration Efforts / Malta’s Efforts to Negotiate Readmission Agreement With Libya On Hold

This cable reports comments made by Malta’s Ambassador to Libya, Joseph Cassar, about the negative impact caused by the death of Fawzi Ghariba, Director of International Cooperation for Libya’s Port Authority-equivalent, on Maltese efforts to coordinate migration control and SAR operations with Libya.  The cable was written in May 2008 by the US Embassy’s Chargé d’Affaires, Chris Stevens, and is titled:  “Death of Key Libyan Official Hampers Counter-Migration Efforts.

Ambassador Cassar was reported as saying that the death of Fawzi Ghariba six weeks earlier “had negatively impacted the GOL’s responsiveness on illegal migration issues at a critical time.”  Cassar said Ghariba “played a key role in finalizing recent Malta-Libya and Italy-Malta bilateral cooperation agreements on migration issues [and that he] was an energetic and efficient operator and one of the only GOL officials who approached illegal migration with any sense of urgency.  Cassar “said efforts to finalize … a readmission agreement under which migrants found to have entered Malta illegally could be returned to their country of departure (Libya) rather than their countries of origin, had been frozen since Ghariba’s death.”

Most of the Cable’s text follows:



2.(SBU) Maltese Ambassador Joseph Cassar pulled P/E Chief aside for a conversation on illegal migration as the latter penned a message in the condolences book for the recently deceased Sir Anthony Mamo, the first President of Malta. Saying it had been “a bad week”, Cassar noted that more than 70 illegal migrants had made landfall and requested asylum in Malta during a single 48-hour period earlier this week. More than half of the 70 individuals claimed to have departed from Libya’s coast, prompting Valletta to task its embassy in Tripoli to reiterate requests that the GOL increase patrols in its Search and Rescue area (SAR). Cassar noted that more vessels transporting illegal migrants appear to be calling via satellite telephones to claim distress and request assistance immediately after entering Malta’s SAR. He suggested that they did so to mitigate the chance that they would founder before being rescued.


3.(SBU) Cassar said the GOL’s response to the Maltese demarche had been “disappointing”. He noted that the unexpected death six weeks ago of Engineer Fawzi Ghariba, former Director of International Cooperation for Libya’s Port Authority-equivalent and a key interlocutor on counter-migration efforts, had negatively impacted the GOL’s responsiveness on illegal migration issues at a critical time. (Note: Launches from Libya of vessels transporting illegal migrants typically increase in spring/summer months to take advantage of improved weather and sea conditions. End note.) Describing Ghariba’s operating style as “American”, he said the late official played a key role in finalizing recent Malta-Libya and Italy-Malta bilateral cooperation agreements on migration issues (reftel). More importantly, Ghariba was an energetic and efficient operator and one of the only GOL officials who approached illegal migration with any sense of urgency. In several cases, Ghariba had galvanized the GOL to deal with migration issues and prompted disparate GOL entities to coordinate their efforts through the force of his personality. On instructions from Valletta, Cassar has asked the GOL several times when a successor to Ghariba might be identified; however, the GOL has demurred, saying it would be unseemly to rush to appoint a replacement.


4.(C) Cassar said Malta has focused on enhancing training for Libyan CG officials patrolling Libya’s SAR area. He said efforts to finalize an agreement to provide such training, as well as a readmission agreement under which migrants found to have entered Malta illegally could be returned to their country of departure (Libya) rather than their countries of origin, had been frozen since Ghariba’s death. (Comment: A number of European countries have been pursuing similar readmission agreements with the GOL. All have encountered significant difficulty in attempting to finalize those, suggesting that factors other than Ghariba’s death may bear on Malta’s efforts. End comment.) He encouraged the U.S. to continue focusing on training and material assistance for Libya’s CG. (Note: Two Libyan CG officers are scheduled to participate in upcoming training programs at a facility in Malta that uses a U.S. Coast Guard curriculum. End note.) Suggesting that he did not agree with Valletta’s position that equipment donations [i.e., by wealthier EU countries like Italy] to Libya to combat illegal migration be predicated on the GOL “taking greater responsibility” for its SAR, Cassar described the Libyan CG’s equipment needs as “considerable”….”

Click here and here for full Cable.

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