Migrants waiting on board NGO ship Ocean Viking to disembark, off the coast of Malta | Photo: EPA/Hannah Wallace Bowman/ Doctors Without Borders
Migrants waiting on board NGO ship Ocean Viking to disembark, off the coast of Malta | Photo: EPA/Hannah Wallace Bowman/ Doctors Without Borders

Malta reportedly asked the Libyan coast guard to rescue a migrant boat in Maltese waters. The UN agency has said that this may be a violation of maritime laws.

The UN agency for refugees (UNHCR) has opened an investigation into why Malta asked the Libyan coast guard to rescue a boat in distress in the Maltese Search and Rescue Area, the UN said on Tuesday. 

Vincent Cochetel, the UNHCR's special envoy for the central Mediterranean, told reporters in Rome that "there's some evidence that Malta requested assistance (from) the Libyan coast guard to intervene" in its own search and rescue region on October 18. 

The boat had 50 people on board including ten women and five children. 

'Disembarking migrants in Libya violates maritime laws' 

"The problem is that the migrants were disembarked in Libya. That's certainly a violation of maritime laws (...) It's clear that Libya isn't a safe port," Cochetel said. 

What exactly happened on October 18? A distress call had been made to Alarm Phone, an independent hotline for migrants in need of rescue at sea. After receiving the GPS coordinates of the boat, activists from the hotline informed the Maltese authorities and at 2:40 pm were told by a Maltese official that "we will take care of everything," according to a transcript of the call provided to the Associated Press by Alarm Phone. 

Silence from rescue coordination center 

According to Maltese media reports, the Maltese rescue and coordination center then stopped responding to Alarm Phone's calls. Only  9:30 pm, almost seven hours later, the hotline was informed by Maltese authorities that the Libyan Coast Guard had intercepted the boat about 41 miles from Lampedusa and 110 miles from Tripoli. 
 

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