Malta closes ports to migrant rescue NGO ships

Malta government says that island’s ports will not be used by NGO vessels pending the outcome of an investigation into the MV Lifeline • Vessels inside the port are blocked

Malta has announced that it will be closing its ports to NGO-operated vessels
Malta has announced that it will be closing its ports to NGO-operated vessels

The Maltese government said on Thursday that it would be suspending operations by migrant rescuing NGO vessels until an investigation into the operations of the MV Lifeline are completed.

The decision was announced as European leaders are meeting in Brussels for an EU Council summit that will have migration at the top of the agenda.

In a statement, the government said recent events had brought to the fore information that was “previously unknown” and that it needed to “ascertain that operations being conducted by entities using its port services and operating within the area of Maltese responsibility are in accordance with national and international rules”.

The government said this included, but was not limited to, the certification or registration of vessels involved.

“Given that there are investigations being carried out by independent authorities, and until these issues are clarified, Malta cannot allow entities, whose structure might be similar to that being subject to investigations, to make use of Malta as their port of operations, and to enter or leave the said port,” the statement read.

This effectively means that the country’s ports are closed to NGO-operated vessels, with those currently docked in Malta being unable to leave.

“This is also in view of judicial processes that might ensue, and in order for the Maltese authorities not to be considered to be approving of systems of operations that might eventually be found to be carried out in breach of their own and international rules,” the government said.

The ban is likely to have an immediate impact on other NGOs using Malta as part of their operations. In addition to the Lifeline, the Seefuchs and Sea Watch 3 are both currently berthed in the Grand Harbour. According to vessel tracking website Marine Traffic, both vessels are flying a Dutch flag, but their “AIS Vessel Type” is listed as being a pleasure craft.

READ ALSO: Lifeline captain likely to be charged in Malta over 'irregular' ship registration

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