VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — Malta has brought to its shores 70 migrants who drifted into Maltese waters after being stranded at sea for five days, but said Thursday that it must suspend further rescues due to the COVID-19 emergency.
After the rescue mission, the Malta government said in a statement that it could no longer help migrants in distress at sea trying to reach Europe from northern Africa.
Malta said the resources of law enforcement and armed forces are focused on combating the spread of the virus, which has infected some 350 people on the Mediterranean island nation since March 7, and noted that the port and airports had been closed to passenger traffic due to the emergency.
“In the light of the magnitude of these pressures, it is considered that the Maltese authorities are not in a position to guarantee the rescue of prohibited immigrants on board of any boats, ships or other vessels, nor to ensure the availability of a ‘safe place’ on the Maltese territory to any persons rescued at sea,’’ the government said in a statement.
More than 500 migrants set out from Libya this week, according to the International Organization for Migration. Their fates have been complicated by the virus.
Italy also has closed its ports to non-Italian-flagged rescue boats, citing fears over the pandemic. Italy has denied a request for docking by the Alan Kurdi, a German-flagged rescue vessel that pulled 150 migrants from the water and is still searching for a port.
About 280 migrants were picked up after three days at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard, but then denied entry to the Libyan capital, Tripoli.