A picture of the Aita Mari docked near the Greek island of Lesbos | Photo: Aita Mari
A picture of the Aita Mari docked near the Greek island of Lesbos | Photo: Aita Mari

On Monday evening the humantiarian vessel Aita Mari, sailing under a Spanish flag, rescued 47 migrants at sea in the Mediterranean. Now the crew is searching for a safe port in Malta in which to disembark the migrants.

On Monday evening the Spanish rescue ship, the Aita Mari, was some hours away from the Sicilian port of Syracuse on its way back to Spain. Without medical personnel on board, the ship was not "on duty" officially, but it nevertheless responded to a distress call put out by the organization Alarm Phone and sailed to the rescue of "about 47 people" on board a small dinghy.

The Aita Mari is run by the Spanish non-governmental organization Salvamento Maritìmo Humanitario (SMH) (Humanitarian Sea Rescue). SMH said that they contacted the Maltese authorities several times but received "no answer."

Their only option, with water coming in to the dinghy, they tweeted, was to rescue the 43 people on board and bring them on to the Aita Mari. The crew of the Aita Mari said that when they arrived near the dinghy, there were six people unconscious and one pregnant woman on board. They requested "urgent medical attention."

'Further support needed'

According to the organization Alarm Phone, the Aita Mari does not have "sufficient medical equipment or crew on board" to treat the people who needed help and "further support is needed."

However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maltese authorities, like the Italians, declared their ports "unsafe" and closed them last week: in order to comply with the lockdown rules present in many European countries, to cope with the crisis.

The Maltese authorities did however, according to SMH, agree to bring food and medical supplies out to the Aita Mari to help those on board.

'We demand safe harbor'

As the sun rose on the Mediterranean on Tuesday morning, the "minimum crew" of the Aita Mari once again demanded "safe harbor" in a tweet.

They said they were taking care of the people as best they could but that the Maltese authorities were still "denying them a safe harbor."

According to the Maltese English language newspaper, The Times of Malta, the Maltese authorities say all their resources are "tied up in the fight against the coronavirus." In the same newspaper, it was reported that the Maltese Minister of Foreign Affairs Evarist Bartolo suggested that the EU should step in with a "€100 million rescue mission for Libya." The mission, he said would "provide food and medicines for people whose only option is to turn to the sea."

'Don't let them drown'

Meanwhile, a social media campaign stating that "all lives matter" is gathering strength in Malta and around the world. According to The Times of Malta, the campaign was started by the director of the NGO Aditus foundation Neil Falzon on Monday, April 13. It asks supporters to write the hashtags "Don't let them drown" and "All lives matter" on a piece of paper and hold it up to the camera whilst taking a selfie and then posting it on social media.

According to its website, Aditus was formed in 2011 by a "group of young lawyers." It seeks to monitor the respect for and access to human rights in Malta. The foundation's name comes from the latin word for "access." They have written a number of papers on refugees, migrants and integration and are an active member of the European Council for Refugees and Exiles.

A teenager who had been holding a vigil outside the Maltese Prime Minister’s office over Easter announced, on Tuesday in a video posted on Facebook, that he was suspending his protest after a "cordial" meeting between himself and the Prime Minister, Robert Abela. According to The Times of Malta, the teen said he did not feel he could "disclose the contents of the meeting" but was hoping that the Prime Minister would contact him, as promised, later.

Xandru Casser, the University student leading the vigil, said he would "continue to hope that […] the people of Malta would not leave these people to die at sea," and that he would continue to campaign for safe ports to be provided in his island nation.


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