UNHCR gives ‘false impression’ of rescue
Publisher: The Malta Independent
Story date: 16/11/2011
Language: English

The Armed Forces of Malta contradicted points made on 11 November by the UNHCR spokesperson, Adrian Edwards, at a press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva which, the AFM said, gave a false impression.

The AFM said it must be underlined that the initial call on Tuesday, 8 November made from the migrants' rubber dinghy was taken by Palermo Radio in Sicily, which in turn referred it to the Italian SAR authority at MRCC Rome.

When contacted on this alert, evaluation conducted at RCC Malta placed the migrants' dinghy in a position inside the Libyan SAR region of responsibility (SRR), at approximately 135 nautical miles to the south west of Malta. At this stage of the SAR operation MRCC Rome was the initial coordinating authority as the first RCC alerted to the incident, and thus responsible for directing efforts to localise the distress position and address rescue assets in that direction.

As an RCC that was also aware of a potential distress, RCC Malta immediately engaged in supporting MRCC Rome in the conduct of this case. In addition, RCC Malta also successfully established contact with the migrants themselves onboard the boat via satellite phone, and determined their general condition and the local weather state in their area. An AFM surface asset that at the time was some three to four hours away from the reported distress position was offered to MRCC Rome for assistance but was declined as MRCC Rome stated that they already had a warship in the area.

In order to further support MRCC Rome, RCC Malta initiated contacts with MRCC Tunis and Nato MHQ in Naples, so as to enquire whether any of their respective assets were in the area. As a result of this, MRCC Tunis also deployed a patrol craft and a Tunisian flagged tug boat to proceed towards the migrants' last tracked position, yet their search in the area yielded no results.

When the migrants' dinghy entered the Maltese SRR, RCC Malta then formally assumed the coordination of the SAR mission. Simultaneously the Italian authorities declared that "Lampedusa island's port is not a place of safety for disembarkation of migrants rescued at sea".

The UNHCR spokesperson's comments fail to mention all these facts as well as the fact that the AFM also carried out two back-to-back aerial searches on the Wednesday afternoon with a maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) with negative results. The day after, the AFM's KingAir MPA again conducted a search in Maltese SRR, south of Lampedusa, as well as an area 40 to 55 nautical miles south west of Malta, with negative results.

The AFM said the impression conveyed by the UNHCR spokesperson's omission of these well-chronicled facts, gives the wrong and very false impression that the Maltese SAR authorities abdicated their responsibilities and did not cooperate with the relevant Italian authorities in the conduct of this SAR mission.

It is also pertinent to note that, at all times during the rescue operation, RCC Malta fully complied with all international legal obligations that are incumbent upon it and cooperated closely with all other relevant SAR authorities who were engaged in this case.

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