EU talks in Malta and a more lenient policy of the new Italian government stirs hope for an end to Stand-offs for civilian rescue ships. Amid further rescues by national authorities, no EU-led Search and Rescue (SAR) operation is in sight. With the extension of the mandate for Operation Sophia training of the so-called Libyan coastguard continues.

The NGO Alarm Phone reports that, on Thursday, 40 people were rescued in Italian waters and brought to the island of Lampedusa after the NGO had alerted the authorities of a boat in distress.

The same day, Spanish sea rescue authorities reportedly rescued a boat carrying 37 people off the Spanish island of Gran Canaria. They had been on the Mediterranean for three days trying to reach Europe. Earlier this week, Spanish authorities rescued 115 people from two boats in distress in the Alborán Sea and in the Strait of Gibraltar and disembarked them in the Andalusian port cities Motril and Cádiz. On Tuesday, a British cruise ship picked up 20 people from overcrowded inflatable boats on its way from Cadiz to Barcelona and disembarked them in the port of Almeria.

According to the Armed Forces Malta (AFM), 265 people disembarked in Malta early on Saturday. 229 migrants from Saturday’s arrivals were rescued directly by the AFM from three boats in distress in Maltese water. Another 36 were transferred to an AFM patrol boat from the civilian rescue vessel Ocean Viking.

The 182 people remaining on the Ocean Viking were granted permission to disembark in the Italian port of Messina on Tuesday. They had been rescued by the ship jointly operated by the NGOs SOS MEDITERANEE and Doctors without Borders (MSF) at the Mediterranean in the course of last week. France and Germany agreed to take 50 people from the ship, Portugal 20, and Ireland and Luxembourg two each. The Italian Catholic church agreed to accommodate the remaining 58 people, without support from the Italian state.

On Thursday the Council of the EU officially extended the mandate of EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia by six months, until 31 March 2020. Naval ships remain suspended with reference to on-going negotiations on disembarkation procedures. However, an EU-led SAR operation has not been part of the negotiations on disembarkation and relocation arrangements in Malta this week. Although the core mandate of operation Sophia is to “disrupt the business model of migrant smugglers and human traffickers in the Southern Central Mediterranean”, the operation had saved around 50 000 lives of people trying to reach Europe. Part of the mandate is also continued training of the so-called Libyan Coastguard that has been implicated in numerous  incidents of abuse and human rights violations of people they intercepted at sea, including the death of a person upon disembarkation last week.

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Photo: (CC) Tom Lee, August 2015

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.