Malta has taken custody of 17 shipwrecked refugees rescued by NGO Sea-Eye after 12 days at sea, but has refused to allow a crew-change, according to a statement by the sea-rescue organisation in which it slammed “indifference” to the challenges faced by Mediterranean countries.
“Despite intensive efforts of the German ambassador in Valletta, Malta refused the Sea-Eye ship mooring in port without stating a reason. 10 crew members were allowed to leave the ship to return home. The minimum crew stays behind and is looking for a port for the Professor Albrecht Penck. Malta also prohibited the possibility of sending a replacement crew,” the NGO said in a statement.
“The dignity of our crew and the rescued people was not only touched, it was drowned in the Mediterranean,”said Gorden Isler, a spokesman for Sea-Eye e.V.
On Friday morning, 10 crew members left the Sea Eye ship to return home leaving the required minimum crew behind. “We experienced difficult times together. Now I´m looking forward to seeing my family, but it hurts me to leave a part of the crew behind,” said Jan Ribbeck, head of mission.
Sea-Eye says it had asked the Maltese authorities for permission to exchange the ten crew members for four new volunteers but was rejected “without explanation.”
“Apparently, one is very afraid that we will right away head back towards Libya, being ready to rescue,” the spokesman said.
Diplomatic attempts to clear the impasse had been going on since Wednesday afternoon, said the organisation, but Malta “was not open to any arguments until the end.”
“The use of state power to take aggravating measures to prevent aid agencies from saving human lives reveals the political course of the island nation of Malta. Premier Joseph Muscat has been holding the crews of Professor Albrecht Penck and Sea Watch 3 as political hostages for weeks to put pressure on other EU member states,” Isler said.
Malta had saved more than 200 refugees from drowning between Christmas and New Year, said the NGO, as it accused Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of “imposing his political will on the EU, regardless of the dignity of the rescued or the seafarers.”
That week Muscat had also received representatives of the Libyan unity government and demanded that the Libyan Coast Guard be allowed to do their job, the statement reads. “However, this so-called work is not about rescuing human lives but about the prevention of flight in violation of international law (Article 33 (1) CRSR)…However, this cruel policy arises from domestic constraints. There is still no solution to the fair distribution of people rescued in the Mediterranean. The main burden is on Spain, Malta, Italy and Greece. The fact that Malta is putting its own interests above international law, due to domestic constraints, is a result of a non-solidary attitude of non-Mediterranean EU Member States towards the Mediterranean countries."
“As a politician, you cannot say that you are a convinced European and are indifferent to the challenges of the Mediterranean countries. This policy jeopardizes European cohesion and helps men like Matteo Salvini, Sebastian Kurz and Viktor Orban in the stirrups” the spokesman said.
The Professor Albrecht Penck will be changing its name and flag state in the coming weeks in order to resume its work. “Men like Joseph Muscat and Matteo Salvini alone do not determine what the future of Europe looks like. After all, also the rescue organisations Sea-Eye e.V. and Sea-Watch e.V. belong to Europe, whose donors express the European desire to help. Sea-Eye therefore calls on the European Commission to continue its efforts to promote a common European and humanitarian solution for the distribution of people rescued from the Mediterranean and to mandate a European naval operation to save as many people as possible. Until this day, we will continue.”