“Italy has been negotiating for a good ten years now with Malta on an agreement for search and rescue authority at sea. Given their resistance, we have so far not been able to make headway, but the time has come to speed things up and sign an accord by the end of the year”.
According to Minister for Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini this is the decisive step to make in order that “a tragedy like the terrible one we saw in the Strait of Sicily is never repeated”.
Why is that Mr. Minister?
“To date Malta has been responsible for search and rescue operations in an enormous tract of sea, which comes up almost to Italian and Libyan waters. The area under their authority is as large as Italy’s, which instead goes toward Tunisia and Algeria”.
Are you saying that Malta is to blame for what happened?
“I haven’t the concrete elements to say that with certainty. But it is clear that they haven’t got the means, in numbers of ships and crews, to control such a large area”.
We are willing to expand our area of authority, because we have got the means for controlling it. We have been demonstrating that willingness for some time now, the last time being precisely at the start of this summer”.
So why is Malta resisting?
“We are flexible, they are less so, there are still some technical details to work out. The fact remains that thus far they have not agreed to reduce their area. But I am confident, I expect an acceleration given that Malta is part of the EU, and Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Joe Borg is Maltese himself. They have many reasons for being responsive”.
What about Libya? Is it possible that Tripoli has loosened up on the controls specified in its treaty with Italy just to raise the stakes?
“I would tend to rule out any intentional act by Libya, which has thus far been quite precise in blocking departures from their coasts, especially from the port of Zuara. I don’t think the Libyans would have let them through on purpose. I find it more likely that these poor people just managed to evade controls somehow”.
But there are a lot of issues still open with Libya, beginning with the question of our fishing boats. Tripoli has announced that they will not tolerate any more trespassing by our vessels.
“Here too an agreement has to be made, and I hope within the year. It is clear that the Libyans are playing at bargaining, seeing as how few are better at it than they are. The problem is that they consider their waters to be those up to 72 miles from the coast, while we stop at 12. A joint commission has been working for five months now and will resume meetings in September. And I hope that Prime Minister Berlusconi’s visit to Tripoli, planned for 30 August, gives new impetus to the talks”.
Mr. Minister, Catholic daily newspaper «Avvenire» writes that the West is closing its eyes to immigration as it did to the Shoah.
“Over the last 12 months Italy has saved 1,200 persons at sea—more that all the other Mediterranean countries put together. We are the absolute champions when it comes to rescuing. We have always kept our eyes wide open but in this case we were not informed until it was too late. And we can feel nothing but pity and pain for these desperate people”.