Maritime experts doubt Europa II’s ability to do the job

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Experts in the maritime sector told Newsbook.com.mt that the ship Europa II, chartered by Government to house a group of 57 asylum seekers 13 nautical miles offshore, was until recently only licensed to navigate up to 4 nautical miles away from the coast. They added that it could be that Transport Malta changed this licence before the ship set sail. But they insisted that even if this was done, the ship, in their opinion, is not well equipped for such a mission, particularly if the sea turns rough.

Who are the members of the crew manning the operation? asked other experts. Are there qualified persons able to help the immigrants who are considered to be in a position of vulnerability given the stress they have been through?

On Thursday Newsbook.com.mt revealed that Captain Morgan’s Europa II was being loaded with supplies. This newsroom documented the vessel leaving the Sliema jetty as it set course to 13 nautical miles offshore to house the asylum seekers who were adrift in a boat in the Maltese Search And Rescue zone.

Fortina Investments and Transport Malta silent

Europa II, a passenger vessel which would be licensed under the Non-Conventional Vessels Code can only be used for coastal cruising. According to a Transport Malta document this licence would allow the vessel to cruise as far as 4 nautical miles off the coast of Malta. Special permission is required to sail further out than that. Such permission would be sought by the operator when the vessel requires maintenance in Sicily, experts in the field have told Newsbook.com.mt. In such cases, the experts said, permission is usually granted for one voyage provided the ship is not carrying passengers.

Questions sent to Fortina Investments CEO Edward Zammit Tabona remained unanswered until the time of writing. Similarly, Transport Malta has not replied to any of the questions sent by this newsroom. Newsbook.com.mt also contacted the harbour master who directed the newsroom to Transport Malta.

Among the questions raised was what type of licence the vessel has and whether it was equipped to stay at 13 nautical miles indefinitely.

Upon checking tracking websites, the vessel’s AIS remains switched off and is marked as “out-of-range”.

Italy brings migrants ashore

Malta and Italy have declared their ports unsafe amid the coronavirus pandemic. Malta has prohibited the entry of humanitarian vessels operating civil search and rescue missions in the Central Mediterranean. Malta insists that its ports remained closed to migrant landings and said that due to the limit in human resources it could not guarantee rescue at sea. Contrary to Malta, the Italian authorities carried out a rescue mission on Saturday bringing to shore a group of 67 asylum seekers who were in its territorial waters.

The group of 57 asylum seekers currently on-board Europa II were rescued by a private fishing trawler, Dar al Salam, which was asked by the government to carry out the rescue. It is unclear why the government has tasked the fishing trawler with the rescue. Under international law, whenever a distress call is made, nearby vessels are obliged to assist. Dar al Salam was recently involved in the push back of a group of asylum seekers to war torn Libya. Prime Minister Robert Abela denied that a push back took place describing Libya as an “open” port. The forcible return of refugees or asylum seekers to a country such as Libya where they are liable to be subjected to persecution. remains illegal under international law.

Why Captain Morgan’s vessel?

Newsbook.com.mt asked Zammit Tabona who contracted the company and how much was being paid for such a service per day.

Sources have told Newsbook.com.mt that other vessels which are better equipped are available in Malta. It remains unclear as to how Europa II was chosen and if it was adequate to host such a considerable number of people on board.

OPM silent as well

Prime Minister Robert Abela underlined that the expenses will be covered using EU funds. But details have been scant as the Prime Minister highlighted repeatedly that the press conference concerned the gradual lifting of measures rather than migration.

Questions were also sent to the Office of the Prime Minister. The questions posed by this newsroom were:

  1. Under which law has the government contracted a private vessel to carry out a rescue operation?
  2. Who contracted the vessels (Dar al Salam and Captain Morgan’s Europa II) exactly? OPM, AFM or others? Kindly specify.
  3. How much was paid to both vessels to carry out the rescue and host the migrants?
  4. For how long will the migrants be kept off at 13nm?
  5. What licence does Captain Morgan’s Europa II hold?

Similarly, the Office of the Prime Minister has not replied to date.