On Friday 14th July 2006 the Spanish Gill Netter FRANCISCO Y CATALINA rescued 51 irregular migrants, all thought to be of Eritrean nationality, and attempted to seek permission to land them in Malta. Malta had refused permission on the basis that Malta had not been the territory closest to the point of recovery by the Spanish vessel and that the recovery was undertaken outside Malta’s SAR area. The government also argued that the spot at which the migrants had been rescued was closer to Libya than Malta and that the migrants and vessel were in no apparent danger.
Since then, the vessel remained off Malta as diplomatic and legal tripartite negotiations were being held between Malta, Spain and Libya over what to do with the eight women, two of whom were reported to be pregnant, a baby and 42 men aboard the vessel. However around 1600 hrs an airlift to St. Luke’s Hospital was made for a dehydrated child and a pregnant woman with developed complications from the vessel as both needed hospital treatment.
The UNHCR warned against the migrants being sent back to Libya, given the fact that the country did not sign the Geneva Refugee Convention and with similar past experiences with the country had led to undesirable results. Meanwhile the vessel has been kept under the watch of an Armed Forces of Malta Patrol Craft, the SAR Launch MELITA II with a SA316B Alouette III helicopter that lowered provisions in the form of food and water to the vessel and an AFM doctor has carried onboard medical examinations.
On Wednesday 19th July 2006 Spain agreed that it will send a military aircraft to Malta to take most of the 51 illegal immigrants on board a Spanish trawler off Malta, Foreign Affairs Minister Michael Frendo stated.
On Friday 21st July 2006 around 1500 hrs FRANCISCO Y CATALINA was escorted to the AFM Haywharf Base at Marsamxett Harbour to disembark the irregular immigrants who have been stranded at sea. Police and AFM Personnel started gathering at the base with a Bremse Class Patrol Craft, SAR Launch MELITA II escorting the vessel.
The immigrants, who seemed hesitant to disembark, were taken to the airport in two police buses, although five of them were kept in Malta, since they will later be sent to Morocco, following an agreement with the European Commission.
A pregnant woman, a mother and a child, who were airlifted from the vessel to receive medical assistance, were among the 46 immigrants who were flown back to Spain.
The first aircraft a Casa C295M with serial T.21-06 and coded 35-47 took off around 1700 hrs and was scheduled to stop in Crotone, Italy before flying to Barcelona.
The second aircraft a Lockheed C-130H-30 Hercules with serial T.30-01 coded 31-01 left some time later and was scheduled to land in Madrid. The Spanish authorities then had to dispatch the immigrants to the different countries who formed part of the agreement – Spain, Andorra and Italy.
AFM Commander Brigadier Carmel Vassallo gave his comments to the press following the operation, which he said was simple and orderly.
Photos by Capt. Lawrence Dalli. Do not use these images without my permission. © All rights reserved. Malta Ship Photos & Action Photos – www.maltashipphotos.com
Published – Wednesday 1st April, 2020