AFM silent on fate of 55 people on boat in distress

The Armed Forces of Malta have denied promising to send a naval asset to assist 55 people on a rubber boat in distress which is adrift in the Maltese search and rescue area.

Contacted by Newsbook.com.mt, a spokesperson for AFM said that no rescue took place overnight and that she had no information with regards to promising that a naval asset would be sent out to assist a rubber boat carrying 55 individuals which found itself in distress.

Sources speaking to this newsroom said that a rubber boat carrying 55 individuals was in Maltese search and rescue region. A merchant ship was close to its location however due to the storm it could not affect a rescue.

On Saturday four rubber boats have left Libya and were adrift in the Central Mediterranean region. Two of these rubber boats were in the Maltese search and rescue region. On board of one of the rubber boats were 47 individuals which have since been rescued by Aita Mari, a search and rescue vessel operated by the Spanish NGO Salvamento Maritimo Humanitario which rerouted while on its way to Spain.

The chaplain of Mediterranea Saving Humans Don Mattia Ferrari corroborated the information that a Portuguese-flagged merchant vessel Ivan was sailing close to the rubber boat when it was notified by Malta to monitor the situation of the 55 individuals. Further, the Maltese authorities allegedly instructed the merchant ship to provide the necessary assistance, saying that an army naval asset would be sent out to assist the people on board the rubber boat.

The Maltese authorities have allegedly sent out a NAVTEX at 9pm on Monday to the vessels in the area. Asked to confirm the NAVTEX, the AFM spokesperson replied “there’s no information”.

Don Mattia explained that at a certain point the merchant vessel sailed away, however Malta refused to divulge any information.

It is not understood what has happened to the 55 people on board the rubber boat and whether they have been rescued.

With regards to the group of 47 people they are currently still on Aita Mari and have not been assigned a port of safety by the Maltese authorities who have coordinated the rescue.

Don Mattia said that as far as it was known Malta had accepted to coordinate the operation and sent medical personnel to the humanitarian vessel however they could not reach it. The Maltese authorities have not assigned a port of safety to Aita Mari despite coordinating the rescue.

The government came under fire after it announced that no more migrant landings will be allowed in Malta due to the coronavirus outbreak. The decision came within days that Italy made a similar unprecedented move with both states declaring their ports to be “unsafe”. The government announced that it could not guarantee rescue at sea due to human resources being stretched thinly in view of the coronavirus pandemic. Further, Tripoli announced that any migrants which leave Libya through the deadly sea route cannot return to the war-torn country.