The vessel has refused to transfer the migrants to a Libyan patrol boat insisting the country was not a safe haven.
The humanitarian vessel MV Aquarius has refused to hand over a group of 11 rescued migrants to a Libyan patrol boat, insisting that Libya was not safe for people to be returned to.
The vessel said it had requested permission to disembark 11 migrants in Tunisia, Malta or Italy, however a spokesperson for the Armed Forces of Malta, which is responsible for Malta’s search and rescue zone, said it had received no requests.
The NGO Médecins Sans Frontières said in a tweet that the vessel had just rescued migrants from a small boat that was in distress in international waters off the coast of Libya.
“The boat was overcrowded and slowly taking on water, with many exposed to fuel,” the Aquarius said. “No one had lifejackets. All 11 people are now safe on board.”
Some time later, the NGO said that prior to the rescue, the Aquarius informed the Libyan maritime authorities, as well as those in Malta, Italy and Tunisia.
“For the time being only the Italian authorities have responded and said they will inform the Libyan authorities,” the NGO added.
It said that the Joint Libyan Rescue Coordination Centre told the Aquarius to transfer the survivors onto a Libyan patrol boat.
A Maltese government spokesperson said the boat was approximately 28 nautical miles off the Libyan coast and within the Libyan Search and Rescue Region (LY SRR).
The Libyan coastguard, being the appropriate and competent SAR authority inside the LY SRR, assumed coordination of the case; however Aquarius refused to abide by the Libyan Coastguard instructions and refused to cooperate.
The vessel has been at the centre of a number of disputes related to migrant rescued off the coast of Libya. The vessel was at the centre of a standoff between Malta and Italy in June which ultimately ended with Spain agreeing to take in the 629 migrants on board.
“This is not a case that involves Malta,” the spokesperson said.
141 migrants rescued by the vessel in August were transferred to Malta last August before being transferred to other EU member states.
TunisianMonitorOnline (Malta Today)