“We have been in contact with Malta to offer support if humanitarian help is needed by the boat in the next few hours,” Reuters quoted Isabel Celaa saying during a news conference after the MV Lifeline carrying 239 migrants led to more political posturing by Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini.
On Friday morning, Salvini said the ship was in Maltese waters and that Malta should take responsibility. This was immediately disputed by the co-founder of the NGO Mission Lifeline Axel Steier in an interview with Euronews.
At the time, the team issued their co-ordinates on Twitter in reply to Salvini saying there were in international waters. Steier said the migrants were in need of “immediate evacuation” but the vessel has nowhere to take them. He said the NGO would now commence efforts to contact other European countries for help.
The Times of Malta and Malta Today later in the afternoon quoted government sources saying the ship had entered Maltese territorial waters but no formal request had as yet been made by the ship and Rome’s co-ordination centre for Malta to take in the vessel. There has been no official statement by the Maltese authorities so far.
Salvini has been criticised for stoking uproar with his inflammatory rhetoric and playing with human lives for political gain after only weeks ago Italy blocked the vessel Aquarius carrying 629 people. They included 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women. Spain eventually took in the migrants.
Italy earlier said it would seize two migrant rescue ships in the Mediterranean – the Lifeline and Seefuchs – citing doubts over their legal status.
In response, Mission Lifeline published a document showing its ship’s registration: “Our ship sails under the Dutch flag which can be proven by this registration confirmation”.
On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron said, “populism was spreading across Europe like a disease that Europeans should fight more vigorously”.
“You can see them rise a bit like a leprosy all across Europe, in countries where we thought that would be impossible to see them again, in neighbouring countries,” Macron said.
Salvini dismissed the 40-year-old French president as a “chatterbox” saying that while the French president talked, he was “working to block the trafficking of illegal immigrants in the Mediterranean.”
EU leaders meet on Sunday to discuss the migration concerns ahead of an EU Summit next week. .