Robert Abela was reported to have spoken to the press as to what he gave in sworn testimony to a criminal inquiry into his conduct this morning. Criminal inquiries are supposed to be confidential affairs and witnesses are habitually cautioned they are not to state what they have testified in the inquiry. Even the fact that they confirm that they have testified at all can fall foul of the law.

Robert Abela evidently thought this was a good day to call the press corps to Republic Street and conduct a circus outside the court house. One can only wonder whether he imagines that the oath he took inside the courtroom no longer applied to what he said when he left it. If not he is going to have another conversation with his conscience tonight.

The prime minister’s line is that there categorically has not been a push-back in the case of the people taken to Tripoli by the Maltese-owned, Libyan-flagged Mae Yemenja on Thursday 16 April. That boat was carrying the survivors of a fatal adventure of people that were left to their own fate from Thursday 9th to Wednesday 15th April as the Maltese authorities ignored their pleas for aid.

Now the facts are quite simple. The boat was in Malta’s search and rescue area. This is confirmed by the prime minister himself who also confirmed that Malta had and took responsibility for the “coordination of the rescue”. Malta directed the Mae Yemenja to rescue the passengers. That much is also confirmed by Robert Abela. The next morning the Mae Yemenja disembarked the passengers and unloaded the corpses in Tripoli. The prime minister does not deny this either though he sounds like he wishes the photographic evidence did not materialise.

Now these facts put together amount to a push back. The prime minister is arguing it isn’t one “because Mae Yemenja went on to its home port, Tripoli, because it is a boat flying under the Libyan flag.” A blatant piece of misdirection which relies on people’s desire to find reasons to rejoice in his decision to abandon black people to their fate in a Libyan hellhole or at the bottom of the sea.

The prime minister is resorting to the very weak alibi his government concocted when they hired Charles Grech to do this job. Leave aside the fact that until very recently and for a long time the Mae Yemenja was Maltese. Even if it is, in theory, a Libyan-flagged vessel, its home port is Valletta. It was in Valletta when the government dispatched it to pick up the passengers it sent to Libya. And it was in Valletta again after this “rescue” setting out of Valletta again to pick up people it later handed over to the Captain Morgan’s Europa II.

Let’s not accept the ridiculous notion that ships sail towards or away from the harbour of the flag they fly under. There are ships all over the world flying the Maltese flags. The great majority of them never in their existence enter our harbours and call somewhere else from Kiribati to Arkhangelsk their home port.

The homeport of the Mae Yemenja is not Tripoli. It’s Valletta.

But again, quite apart from all that, the prime minister himself confirms Malta was coordinating the rescue and Malta commandeered the Mae Yemenja to conduct a rescue operation on its behalf. Who owns the Mae Yemenja and what flag it flies under are frankly academic considerations. The boat was acting on the instructions and on behalf of the government of Malta. It became equivalent to an asset of the state and its captain and crew became its agents.

The rescue operation ordered by Malta ended in Tripoli, an unsafe harbour that was shelled by artillery just the night before. If the prime minister told the court this morning there’s been no push back, he still could not have been able to reconcile that outrageous claim with these bare facts.