Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was tweeting about a dog saved in the Mediterranean on Sunday as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Geneva said European governments must review their search and rescue capacities in the Mediterranean Sea where more than 1,700 people have lost their lives.
“The fear is if there is no search and rescue in the Mediterranean, more lives will be lost,” said UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch, who stressed governments need to re-examine current arrangements between countries.
The Maltese government has seized NGO rescue vessels and a plane operating in the Mediterranean, saying they were traffickers. NGO vessels MV Lifeline, MV Sea Watch 3 and MV Seefuchs as well as a spotter plane remain impounded in Malta.
On Sunday, the government issued a press release about “a middle-aged female Maltese Terrier Cross” on board the MV Aquarius as an operation was underway to transfer 58 migrants from the vessel. The government also informed the public that the rescued dog was “in good health,” while saying nothing about the wellbeing of the 58 people who were on board the ship.
Last week, Muscat addressed the UN General Assembly in which he highlighted the issue of migration and called on political leaders to show statesmanship and make “the right choices” over “popular ones”. Yet, the government’s use of the dog for publicity on a sensitive issue like migration led to criticism from citizens and NGOs, including from human rights foundation Aditus.
UNHCR concern increased after the MV Aquarius, which was the last charity vessel still operating in the area, had its registration revoked by the Panama Maritime Authority. There will now be no charity rescue shops off the Libyan coast until the vessel finds a new flag to sail under.
MSF Sea expressed its concern that the MV Aquarius will be forced to return to port to deal with flag registration. “No search and rescue vessels currently in the area. No witnesses. People fleeing Libya will continue to die”.
A petition has been launched calling on Europe to issue a new flag for the ship. You can sign the petition here.