The Aquarius will be allowed to enter Maltese ports as a “concession” and the 141 migrants on board will be distributed among France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain, the Maltese government said.
Following discussions between France and Malta, a number of European Union member states, with the support of the European Commission, agreed on a responsibility sharing exercise regarding the rescued migrants on board MV Aquarius.
Malta had no legal obligation to take in the migrants and will serve as a “logistical base” before these are sent to the other EU countries, the statement said.
This is the second time such a voluntary mechanism was put into place following that relating to the MV Lifeline.
Malta also rescued 114 people at sea on Monday – 60 of these will also be distributed among other member states as part of the joint EU cooperation.
The vessel had been in a standby position exactly between Malta and Italy and had been refused permission by the Maltese and Italian authorities to allow the migrants to disembark in their ports.
SOS MEDITERRANEE and Doctors Without Borders had appealed to the European authorities to be allowed to disembark the migrants on board, who said were in touch with a number of member states. In a statement issued on Monday, it also criticised the Gibraltar Maritime Authority for stripping it of its registration, saying it was “disguising a political manoeuvre” behind an incoherent argument.
All the operations of the Aquarius were always been strictly in compliance with maritime law and SAR competent authorities and it remained available for an open and transparent discussion with the Gibraltar Maritime Authority, it said.
Meanwhile, earlier in the day, Maria Serrano, Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner on Migration, said: “European governments must stop playing with human lives. Italy and Malta’s disgraceful refusal to allow refugees and migrants to disembark in their ports is pure cruelty. These individuals have braved dangerous journeys and inhumane conditions in Libya only to be stranded at sea as governments shamelessly abdicate their responsibility to protect”.
“What’s equally alarming is that the Gibraltar, under whose flag Aqurius has been sailing, has threatened to terminate the registration of the ship in a bureaucratic manoeuvre designed to frustrate life-saving search and rescue operations at sea. The relentless efforts of NGOs to rescue lives at sea should be celebrated, not hindered or punished”.