The NGO rescue ship the Aquarius has called on European governments to offer it safe harbour after rescuing 141 migrants from the Mediterranean, saying it has been stranded at sea for more than two days.
Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee, which jointly operate the Aquarius, said they had contacted authorities in Italy, Malta, Tunisia and Libya following Friday’s rescues but have been denied a place to disembark.
They called for urgent humanitarian assistance for those on board, most of whom were said to be from Somalia and Eritrea, were weak and malnourished, and included 67 unaccompanied minors.
“What is of utmost importance is that the survivors are brought to a place of safety without delay, where their basic needs can be met and where they can be protected from abuse,” said Nick Romaniuk, Search and Rescue Coordinator for SOS Mediterranee.
The NGOs said that those on board reported encountering five boats which did not offer assistance, a “disturbing development” that suggested Italy’s ban on rescue ships was deterring crews from helping migrants in distress.
The Aquarius found itself at the centre of a major diplomatic standoff in June when both Italy and Malta turned it away, leaving it at sea with 630 migrants onboard for more than a week before it was able to dock in the Spanish port city of Valencia.
It is unclear whether Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sanchez of the centre-left PSOE, will repeat that offer.
He has since allowed a Spanish NGO boat, the Open Arms, to dock on three occasions. But he has been accused of failing to ensure local authorities have the resources to cope with the arrivals.
Spain last month overtook Italy as the biggest European landing point for migrants, a development blamed largely on the clampdown in the Central Mediterranean.
SOS Mediterranee and MSF said Europe was increasingly putting the coordination of rescues in the hands of Libyan authorities, but the latter did not have the “capacity” and had simply told it to contact others.
Mr Sanchez this weekend met Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, to discuss the crisis. They laid out a proposal of EU aid to north African governments, improved European coordination on asylum and efforts against “racist tendencies” towards migrants in some member states.