Malta repeatedly falls short of its rescue obligations – Italian Government

The Italian government has launched a scathing attack on the operations of the Maltese government in the way the latter manages its Search and Rescue zone. In reply to a parliamentary question, the Italian Foreign Affairs Minister said that “the behaviour of the Maltese government falls short of its international obligations in issues relating to maritime rescue”. It added that the behaviour of the Maltese authorities on this occasion “follows a similar pattern which, unfortunately, is not new”. has asked the government for its reaction to the positions declared by the Italian government.

‘Shirking its duty’

In its reply, the Italian government pulled no punches. “The Maltese government has frequently fallen short of its international obligations in issues relating to the maritime rescue. This shirking of international duties is based on a very narrow interpretation of the spirit of the law, something which Italy has always contested both on a bilateral level as well as on a European level,” said the statement.

The Italian Ministry for foreign affairs noted that Malta’s search and rescue zone is vast when compared to its size, encompassing also the islands of Lampedusa and Lampione. Malta, it said, is also the only signatory to the Hamburg Convention on search and rescue who has not accepted the 2004 amendments. These amendments made it obligatory for the signatories, that the safe port destination is arrived at through collaboration. Malta, not having ratified these amendments, said the ministry, “therefore considers that her obligation lies solely in assisting where there is need for rescue and insists that the migrants are disembarked in ‘the nearest port’. Which is why Malta drags its feet when the emergency is close to its own shores”.

Narrow interpretation

The Ministry had harsh criticism of Malta’s interpretation of what constitutes an emergency. “Malta considers that a state of emergency exists only when the vessel is in imminent danger of shipwreck and then only if it made an explicit request for help”. This, said the ministerial reply, manifested itself in the situation described by L’Avvenire and The Guardian in the case of the Easter weekend tragedy. “The Maltese military patrol limited itself to giving the migrants fuel, life vests and even a new outboard motor, indicating to them the way to Sicily,” said the Italian Foreign Ministry.

The Italian government noted that the pandemic “caused the Maltese government’s position to become even more rigid in its stance to migrants. Robert Abela’s new government criticises the lack of help by the European Union in relocating rescued migrants and says that it will not be open to rescuing more migrants if there is no prior agreement for relocation” added the reply given in parliament.

Malta repeatedly warned

The ministry noted that Italy had “on several occasions, even formally through several Notes Verbale, warned the Maltese government of the need to avoid such situations [similar to the one which happened in April]. It also invited Malta to adopt a more collaborative approach with the aim of managing better the migrant flows in the Mediterranean”.

The Italian ministry said that like Malta, they too believe that the European Union needs to assist in a spirit of solidarity and joint responsibility as this is the only way to face the serious humanitarian situation in Libya. “The EU can help in the de-escalation of the internal Libyan conflict and hopefully in the achievement of a cease-fire,” said the Italian government.

“Malta finally, seems to have realised the need to collaborate in the collective effort to stabilise Libya. After several postponements, the Maltese government has lifted its reservations on the person nominated as Commander of EUNAVFORMED IRINI, which was proving to be an insurmountable obstacle” concluded the Italian Foreign affairs Ministry in its address to parliament.