Malta turns the tables on Salvini: ‘save migrants off Sicily’

Malta turns the tables on Salvini: ‘save migrants off Sicily’

The Sea Watch off southern Sicily on Thursday morning.

Updated 11.40am Italian minister insists Italy’s harbours are closed, Pozzallo mayor concerned – Malta is expecting Italy to offer shelter to a migrant rescue ship stranded close to Sicily because of bad weather, with a government official passing the buck back to deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini who earlier urged Malta to take in the 47 on board.

The controversial Italian deputy prime minister in a tweet on Wednesday said the Sea Watch was heading towards Malta, and with worsening weather, said Malta should offer it shelter while The Netherlands (where the ship is registered) should collaborate with Malta and Brussels to receive the migrantson board.

He also said that Italy’s harbours are closed.

But instead of staying near Malta after circling the Italian island of Lampedusa, the Sea Watch headed further north and is now off Sicily. 

“In view of (Mr) Salvini’s tweet, and given that the weather conditions are worsening he should offer shelter,” a Maltese government official said when questioned by Times of Malta. 

Reports said the mayors of a number of Sicilian cities, including Palermo, were prepared to host the migrants, putting them in confrontation with the right-wing deputy prime minister. 

Salvini again insists Italy’s harbours are closed, Pozzallo mayor concerned

Mr Salvini insisted again on Thursday that Italy’s harbours are closed.

“Yet another provocation, after stopping for days in Maltese waters (sic), the Dutch ship Sea Watch3 with 47 on board is heading towards Italy. I repeat that our line does not change. Nobody will land in Italy. (We are) ready to send medicines, food and what should be served but Italian ports are and will remain closed” Mr Salvini was quoted as saying by Italian media.

The ship sailed near the Sicilian harbour of Pozzallo but then headed for more sheltered waters between Porto Palo and Siracusa.

The Mayor of Pozzallo, Roberto Ammatuna, expressed his concerns for those on board. 

“I’m worried about the conditions of the migrants aboard the ship, the weather here is really bad and the situation could degenerate. The port of Pozzallo, like all the ports of Italy, is open, there are no formal documents that we have closed them. Minister Salvini, however, continues to say that they are closed and continue his hostility to the NGOs ” he told TPI News. 

Sea Watch International, the German NGO which operates the ship, on Wednesday night tweeted a picture of conditions on board, saying its 47 guests were wet and cold.

“Again, we’re facing a major storm, coming in tomorrow. And again we are without a port of safety. EU Commission, we don’t have time for this.” it said.

The migrants on board Sea Watch.The migrants on board Sea Watch.

The current situation is almost a replay of the situation at the beginning of this month when the vessel after rescuing migrants off Libya, was denied entry for several days by a number of countries including Italy and Malta.

Malta eventually allowed it shelter from stormy seas. After negotiations, the migrants were transferred to a Maltese patrol boat and distributed among eight EU countries, including Italy.

Italy’s involvement had raised a political storm between Italian Prime Minister Conte and Mr Salvini, who complained he was not consulted before the decision was taken. 

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