Statement by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat about the situation of Seawatch3 and Albrecht Penck

Malta, the smallest European Union state, is once again being called upon to shoulder responsibilities way beyond its remit.  

The case involving Seawatch3 and Albrecht Penck took place outside Malta’s area of responsibility, we were not the responsible authority, and we were not the nearest safe port of call. 

The European Commission agreed that Malta has no legal responsibilities when it comes to this case.  

And given this point of principle, we followed the intervention of the Commission, with eight Member States agreeing to accept all 49 migrants currently onboard the SeaWatch3 and the Albrecht Penck.  

During our engagement with the Commission over this crisis, we reminded all that Malta had unilaterally rescued a further 249 persons at sea whose lives were clearly in danger.  

These missions took place in areas for which Malta is responsible.

We argued that it does not make sense that an ad hoc solidarity mechanism is applied only in the case where a safe port of call is refused – and then Member States doing their duty are ignored.  

This would send the wrong signal politically, legally, and morally.

Therefore, as a sign of goodwill by those who acknowledged rescue missions carried out by Malta in recent days, another 131 migrants already in Malta will also be relocated to other Member States.  

This shows Malta’s efforts are being noted by the European Union and its Member States. 

Furthermore, the European Commission will send its experts to facilitate an expedient return, after due process, of a further 44 Bangladeshi nationals who were also part of the 249 persons rescued by the Armed Forces of Malta, and are already in the country.

This means that out of the 249 migrants that landed in Malta in the past days, 224 persons will be relocated to another Member State, or be returned to their country of origin. 

We welcome this show of solidarity and understanding that Malta is going beyond what is required of us. 

The Member States that will participate in this ad hoc relocation programme are: Germany, France, Portugal, Ireland, Romania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Italy. 

All Member States participating in this relocation effort have informed the Commission in writing, stating unequivocally their willingness to participate in this process. 

Allow me to personally thank the European Commission for coordinating this major effort.  

It is very reassuring that the European Commission understands our concerns, and stepped in to provide much needed assistance.  

It is also very comforting for the Maltese people that the Commission, led by Jean-Claude Juncker, takes a leadership role in such situations. 

The operation to transfer the migrants onto our Armed Forces’ vessels in Maltese territorial waters will start as soon as possible.  

The NGO boats Seawatch3 and Albrecht Penck will be asked to leave our territorial waters immediately after the transfer of migrants is completed.

Malta is a very small country. It is in our nature is to assist those in distress. But as Prime Minister, I cannot shirk the responsibility of safeguarding Malta’s national security.  

I reiterate, as I did before, that this case shall not act as a precedent - and I have reassurances that this will not be the case from European institutions.

Everyone, Member States and NGOs, should follow the appropriate rules, rather than acting of their own volition and then expecting others to solve the problems they create.