Captain accuses Italy, Malta of trying to hide sea deaths

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The captain of a private aid ship that engaged in refugee rescue missions accused Italy and Malta of hiding a deadly "farce" in the Mediterranean Sea.

Claus-Peter Reisch, who faces trial in Malta for allegedly captaining a ship that wasn't properly registered, said Monday in Munich that he's done nothing wrong.

Both Italy and Malta have impeded aid groups from operating rescue boats, either by refusing them entry to their ports or by impounding their vessels and putting their crews under investigation.

The 57-year-old Reisch, who captained for German aid group Mission Lifeline, said he believes about 100 refugees are dying daily in the Mediterranean, and accused the governments of trying to hide the death toll.

"The curtain is being drawn over this farce, in which many people are dying, so nobody in the world can see it anymore," he said, as reported by The Associated Press.

Last month, the French rescue ship Aquarius and the German boat Lifeline, who between them were carrying hundreds of refugees, were forced to divert to Spain and Malta respectively after Italy turned them away.

Italy, Greece and Spain have been on the frontline of the refugee crisis, with Europe deeply divided over how to share the burden of the massive influx of people seeking a new life in Europe.

Italy and Malta appeared to head for another spat over refugee arrivals after the Italian interior minister last Friday said he would not allow a ship carrying over 400 people to dock.

Matteo Salvini, also deputy prime minister and leader of the nationalist League party, continued the hardline approach to refugees crossing the Mediterranean that has already seen him clash with Malta and other EU nations over a fishing vessel currently taking 450 people towards the Italian island of Lampedusa.

According to a statement from Italy's foreign ministry the boat, carrying "minors in urgent need of assistance," alerted authorities in Rome in the early hours of Friday while traveling in waters which fall under the jurisdiction of Malta.

The ministry claims that Malta took charge of the operation and asked Italy for "naval help" while not sending any of its own vessels "capable of providing assistance" to the area.

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