The decision of the Gibraltar Maritime Association to terminate the MV Aquarius’ permission to operate as a rescue vessel under the Gibraltar flag last night sparked a spat between the Gibraltar Government and the GSD.
Commenting on the development over social media, GSD leader Keith Azopardi criticised the move, describing it as a “knee-jerk” and “empty” gesture that did nothing to contribute to wider solutions affecting migrants.
He called for greater focus on the “real issue” – that being the need of the international community to deal with the causes and effects of migration.
This drew a stinging reply from No.6 Convent Place, which insisted the GMA’s decision was “far from knee-jerk” and “totally non-political”.
It insisted that the decision was taken by the Maritime Administrator on the basis of a proper interpretation of all applicable rules.
“This is a purely administrative process with decisions taken by technical maritime experts in which the Government has or has had no involvement,” the Government said in a statement.
It added that this is a purely maritime issue which concerns the purpose for which the vessel is certified, compliance with that certification and with instructions given by the Maritime Administrator.
According to the statement the Government was advised of these decisions only after they were taken.
The Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo said he fully supports these decisions.
He said: “Like most right thinking people, I am concerned and worried about the desperation that is leading people to risk their lives to migrate to European shores.”
“The GSD are wrong to try to play politics with the serious business of the GMA and to call into question the professionalism of the Maritime Administrator.”
Mr Picardo added that the GSD are “particularly wrong” to play politics with immigration.
“Such actions are usually the populist preserve of right-wing political parties that Gibraltar can do without.”
“I am a supporter of the work of NGO’s, but also a proponent of that work being done in keeping with all applicable international rules,” Mr Picardo said.
“Ironically, I understand that the laudable agreements made between several EU Member States to allow Aquarius to dock and to distribute those aboard her throughout six different EU jurisdictions has actually have been facilitated by the GMA’s decision.”
“If only the GSD had bothered to think things through before posting populist politics statements, they might have been able to work out why for themselves.’
This comes as Malta agreed to let a private rescue ship dock on the island, with the 141 migrants it is carrying to be distributed among five fellow European Union nations in what was described as a “responsibility-sharing exercise”.
The migrants were plucked to safety by the aid boat Aquarius on two separate operations in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya on Friday.
The boat was reported to be about 35 miles from Malta on Tuesday afternoon when the deal was announced.
The island’s government said: “Malta will be making a concession allowing the vessel to enter its ports, despite having no legal obligation to do so.”
It said that Malta will serve as a logistical base and that all the migrants aboard will be distributed among France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain.
Photo: REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi