The Government of Malta refers to the report “Lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible?” published today by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (CoE) drafted by rapporteur Ms. Tineke Strik of the Netherlands.
The report in question causes some confusion regarding the role of Malta’s Rescue Co-Ordination Centre (RCC) in the tragic incident it refers to.
The Safety of Life at Seas Convention (SOLAS) and the Search And Rescue Convention (SAR) unequivocally lay down the international legal framework in search and rescue operations.
In this case it must be stressed that the ill-fated boat was never within Malta’s Search and Rescue Region (SRR) which is controlled by Malta’s RCC. Indeed, both positions reported by the satellite phone on board put the boat to be very well-within the Libyan SRR on the 27th of March 2011 when the ordeal started.
Further to this, the CoE Report clearly states that RCC Malta was not the first rescue coordination centre to have received information about the boat in question. This is relevant since Article 6.7 of the International Maritime Organisation’s Guidelines on the treatment of persons rescued at sea invariably states:
When appropriate, the first RCC contacted should immediately begin efforts to transfer the case to the RCC responsible for the region in which the assistance is being rendered. When the RCC responsible for the SAR region in which assistance is needed is informed about the situation, that RCC should immediately accept responsibility for co-ordinating the rescue efforts, since related responsibilities, including arrangements for a place of safety for survivors, fall primarily on the Government responsible for that region. The first RCC, however, is responsible for co-ordinating the case until the responsible RCC or other competent authority assumes responsibility.
It should be noted that, in the same timeframe as the above events, RCC Malta and the Rome Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre were also cooperating on a further three reports of craft carrying persons underway in the Central Mediterranean, some of which had been reported by satellite telephones and others which had been sighted by NATO units engaged in operations north of Libya. In all three of these cases, all persons aboard were accounted for.
In view of the above, and the fact that the stricken boat remained in the Libyan Search and Rescue Region, RCC Malta acted in support of MRCC Rome (which was the entity co-ordinating the operation) by repeatedly attempting to contact the satellite phone in question and trying to pinpoint the location of the boat. All the necessary possible action which surpasses the legal obligations incumbent upon Malta was taken by the Maltese Authorities in this case.