The Italian government has once again accused Malta of violating its international search and rescue obligations following reports that the Maltese armed forces provided a boat carrying 13 asylum seekers with fuel, a compass, life jackets and water instead of rescuing them.
According to Italian news agency, AGI, instead of bringing the people on board to safety, the Maltese coast guard escorted the boat towards Italy for at least an hour.
The 13 asylum seekers, including 10 Tunisians and three East Africans, made their way to the Italian island of Lampedusa where they were found to be wearing life jackets made by Maltese company ‘Mecca Marine’, the reports said.
Quoting sources from the Italian home affairs ministry, Italian media said the boat had been first sighted by Italian aircraft in the Maltese search and rescue zone on Friday 9 November.
The reports say that after being alerted by the Italian authorities, the boat was intercepted by the Maltese coast guard.
According to the rescued migrants, people wearing Maltese uniforms provided them with two jerrycans of fuel, a compass, water bottles and life jackets.
Far-right Italian minister for home affairs Matteo Salvini accused Malta of committing an act of hostility. “It is evident that we are facing a real act of hostility by another EU country,” Salvini said, adding that “Italy is under attack.”
The controversial minister added that while “some EU member states are disregarding immigrants and sending them here, Brussels threatens us with sanctions over the budget, but we will not be intimidated.”