The MV Lifeline is expected to land the 234 migrants in Malta later today after being granted permission by the government, but the vessel will be impounded and the captain’s actions investigated, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said during a press conference on Wednesday.
Muscat said the migrants will be relocated among eight member states, including Malta. So far, Italy, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands have offered to help.
The Prime Minister said he expected more member states to offer their help in the next few hours.
The solution came about after French President Emanuel Macron intervened to resolve the dispute between Malta and Italy.
The ship has spent the last six days stranded at sea – the term used by Muscat was “loitering”. Both the Maltese and Italian governments have accused the ship’s captain of ignoring orders to hand over the migrants to the Libyan coastguard.
Muscat stressed several times that this incident was an “ad hoc” and “very, very unique case” and that an investigation would be launched to look into the captain’s actions. He said “our policies need to be revised” to take this kind of situation into account.
He said Dutch authorities had denied claims made by the MV Liveline that the vessel was registered under the flag of The Netherlands. The vessel was also listed as a pleasure boat and, therefore, was not authorised to carry out any rescue missions.
The NGO had previously published a document in Dutch, which it said was the ship’s registration. Muscat said this was simply a certificate of ownership.
The Prime Minister defended EU ‘solutions’ to migration, which have been criticised for aiming to stop migration flows rather than manage them. He insisted this was a unique situation created by the ship’s captain.
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.
A European Council summit on Thursday will debate the issue of migration.