Skip to main content

Anti-migrant ship’s crew disembark in Malta, ending troubled mission

Crew members were unable to act on threats to take distressed migrant boats back to Libya
Members of anti-migrant group Defend Europe hold news conference in Lyon, France, on 19 August after C-Star, ship sent by group to block migrant flows to Europe, left Libyan waters (AFP)

Crew members of the C-Star, the ship chartered by far-right group Defend Europe, came ashore on Sunday in Malta, closing the final chapter of a vain effort to disrupt the flow of migrants from across the Mediterranean.

"The mission ends and after five weeks of hardships... our crew members return home to their families and friends. But Defend Europe will go on," a statement from the group said.

During its troubled two-month campaign, the boat spent less than a week performing its stated task: patrolling waters off Libya where hundreds of thousands of migrants were rescued in recent years and brought to Italy.

Its crew never got the chance to act on their threats to take any distressed migrant boats they came upon back to Libya - a move humanitarian organisations had warned would be in breach of international law.

C-Star was chartered by anti-migrant group Defend Europe (AFP/file photo)

Malta had warned the C-Star it was not welcome on the island, prompting a furious reaction from the anti-immigration campaigners.

But in the end at least three of the boat's crew came ashore, which a spokesman for the Maltese government told AFP it could do little to prevent for European passport holders.

"Together we went in front of the bureau of Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat," the group said. "It's our right as Europeans to enter Europe."

In a video posted on Twitter on Sunday, the crew members said they would be entering Malta. They said Malta had become a global "headquarters" for illegal immigration.

The C-Star had received similar cold-shoulder treatment from ports in Greece, Italy and Tunisia during its short-lived mission.

Tunisian fishermen gather on 6 August in port of Zarzis to protest against possible berthing of C-Star (AFP/file photo)

The C-Star's brief presence in the Mediterranean was regarded as no more than a minor irritant and occasionally a source of amusement.

Chartered after a crowd-funding campaign generated $228,000, the C-Star set off from Djibouti in early July.

The boat was held up for a week in the Suez Canal by Egyptian authorities, then delayed further in Cyprus, where some of the Sri Lankan crew got off and claimed refugee status, embarrassingly adding to the list of asylum seekers the mission was supposed to help cut.

Plans to refuel in Greece, Sicily and Tunisia were scuppered by local opposition and, at one point last week, it briefly looked as if one of the NGO boats would have to come to the aid of the C-Star as it encountered technical problems.