The standoff continues between the island of Malta and the new Italian government around the reception and rescue of migrants, with Salvini threatening to prevent NGOs from accessing ports in Italy if Malta refuses to take charge of the 692 migrants rescued this weekend.
According to the newspaper La Repubblica, Salvini on Sunday sent a letter to the Maltese authorities in which he warns that he would be “forced to close the Italian ports,” if Malta refuses to help.
According to the daily Corriere Della Sera, the letter describes Valletta in Malta as “the safest port” to accommodate this the NGO vessel.
Late on Sunday night, SOS Mediterannée said it had received an order from the Italians to stop the Aquarius 35 nautical miles from Sicily and 27 from Malta.
The Aquarius is a former German coast-guard and fishery protection vessel operated since February 2016 by SOS Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) as a rescue vessel for migrants and refugees making the Mediterranean crossing in makeshift craft from Libya to Italy as part of fueling the European migrant crisis. The ship has a capacity to rescue 200-500 migrants at a time.
“Malta can not say no to any request for assistance,” Salvini explained on Friday, when the Maltese government was already accused of refusing to provide assistance to the Seefuchs rescue ship. It had found himself in difficulty in bad weather with 119 migrants on board. The ship was finally allowed to drop anchor in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo.
On the same day, another NGO crew said it had previously sought help from Malta’s coastguard, but that country had refused.
While denying the existence of a letter from Salvini, the Maltese spokesman said on Sunday that “Malta was not the coordinating or competent authority” for these rescues.
The Maltese spokesman said that the rescue in question had taken place in the Libyan search and rescue area and depended on the Rome relief coordination center, which meant that Malta had no obligation to take charge of these events.