Malta has rescued a group of 140 migrants and chartered a third tourist boat to hold them on the high seas after refusing their disembarkation, a government spokesman has confirmed.
Sources said the 140 rescued on Friday were in distress as their dinghy, which was already too small for all those people, was taking in water.
Malta has closed its ports to migrants in April and told the EU it could not guarantee the availability of assets to conduct rescues because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following its decision to close its ports, the government still wanted to live up to its international obligations to rescue people at sea who were in distress. On April 30, it chartered a tourist boat to house the 57 migrants rescued earlier in the day.
A second boat was chartered a week later after the Maltese army rescued another boatload of 120 migrants. Ten of them were allowed to disembark for purely humanitarian reasons.
The third boat commissioned on Friday will take the remaining 121 of a group of 140 rescued earlier in the day, as 19 of the group — mostly children, their parents and three pregnant women — were allowed to disembark in Malta.
The three chartered boats are outside Malta’s waters until a European solution is found. Malta is calling for solidarity from other EU member states.