Malta detains second migrant rescue ship as hundreds die at sea

The German charity’s search and rescue vessel Sea Watch 3 (L) is the second migrant rescue ship detained in Malta. (AFP pic)

VALLETTA: Malta on Monday stopped a second migrant rescue ship from leaving its port, as the UN refugee agency reported over 300 migrant deaths at sea in four days.

German charity Sea-Watch said in a statement published on its website that the Sea-Watch 3 vessel had been “detained in Malta, without any legal grounds provided by authorities.”

The decision by Malta to detain the ship comes just days after Lifeline, another charity boat, was impounded after it docked in Malta with over 200 migrants onboard on Wednesday.

EU leaders accuse the Lifeline of breaking international law by picking up migrants off the Libyan coast and illegally flying the Dutch flag.

On Monday Lifeline captain Claus-Peter Reisch appeared in a Maltese court charged with commanding an improperly registered ship, charges he denies.

The trial is due to continue next week and Reisch was released on a 10,000-euro bail.

After his court appearance, Reisch released a video in which he said: “I feel good because I didn’t do anything illegal, I only saved 234 human lives.”

He described the Libyan coastguard as “totally incompetent” and “unprofessional” and said they were ill-equipped to carry out rescue missions.

On Monday, Sea-Watch accused Malta of waging a “political campaign” to stop rescues at sea.

“While rescue assets are blocked in port, recent days have become the deadliest this year,” the charity warned.

Late Monday the Libya branch of the UN refugee agency UNHCR tweeted that 114 people were missing at sea after their boat sank off the Libyan coast.

The new tragedy follows UNHCR reports that over 100 migrants had died at sea on Friday, including three babies, and that a further 63 people were missing at sea after their boat capsized on Sunday.

According to the International Organisation for Migration, the new incidents put the toll of deaths at sea this year at over 1,000.

On Monday, the captain of Sea-Watch 3 Pia Klemp accused EU politicians of hindering rescue operations and said they “need to carry their responsibility for the mass grave in the Mediterranean.”

Sea-Watch maintains that its ship is correctly registered with the Dutch authorities.

The vessel is “listed in the royal shipping register as a Dutch seagoing vessel” and is “fully entitled to fly the Dutch flag,” the charity said.

EU leaders are cracking down on charity rescue boats as the bloc grapples with how to handle the influx of people trying to reach the continent.

Several EU leaders have accused NGO ships of indirectly aiding human traffickers, saying they should let the Libyan coastguard coordinate rescue missions and take the migrants back to Libya.

But NGOs argue the migrants would not be safe in Libya, where they have faced abuse and rape in holding centres.