The Sea-Watch 3 on the Mediterranean | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/
The Sea-Watch 3 on the Mediterranean | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/

UPDATE: After 17 days in the Mediterranean Sea and battered by winter storms, the two NGO rescue boats stranded close to Malta's shores with 49 migrants on board are still waiting for port access. One of the ships has received supplies and support. International voices to resolve the humanitarian crisis are getting louder.

Two rescue vessels operated by two German non-governmental organizations (NGO) — Sea-Watch’s "Sea-Watch 3" and Sea-Eyes’ "Professor Albrecht Penek," — with a total of 49 migrants on board have been blocked for days on the Mediterranean Sea and denied access to ports in Malta and Italy.

After Sea-Watch on Thursday said conditions on the boats had become dangerous, with migrants suffering from severe seasickness due to inclement weather and post-traumatic stress disorder, ships from other NGOs departed from Malta on Friday to provide Sea-Watch 3 after fresh food, among other things.

Earlier on Friday, Sea-Watch announced on Twitter that it was two boats with "supplies and support” as well as a “new crew, Parlamentarians and a Church representative.”

In another tweet, Maltese Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia provided a map of the area off the coast of Libya where both NGO boats had carried out their rescues. "Malta was neither the appropriate nor the competent search and rescue authority," he said. Sea-Watch 3 and Sea-Eyes’ Professor Albrecht Penek rescued the migrants in international waters off of the Libyan coast on December 22 and December 29, respectively. 

Since Wednesday, both vessels have been anchoring close to the Maltese shore after Malta had permitted them to approach their coast to shelter from the storm, Sea-Watch crew said.

Yet both Malta and Italy are refusing to let the rescue boats dock and disembark the migrants. While EU countries Malta, Italy, Spain are denying port access, several European cities have offered their help, including Napoli, Palermo, Livorno, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Marburg, Heidelberg and Naples. 

Neapolitan mayor Luigi de Magistris even sent Sea-Watch 3 a letter, which the NGO published on Twitter. “The concern for the condition of the people you have rescued from the sea urges me,” Magistris writes, “to ask you officially to direct your bow towards our city, with the certainty that you will be welcomed in our port.”

Directly defying Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, the center-left mayor added: “Should the Minister’s presumption lead to your access to the port being denied, I would like to inform you that there are already 20 ships to reach Sea-Watch 3 in safety and bring the people you have welcomed ashore.”

In an interview with Radio Crc, Magistris said Salvini was playing politics with people’s lives. “To leave people and children in the middle of cold and stormy seas is a crime — not simply indecent, immoral and appalling.”

Several other prominent mayors in Italy have joined forces with Magistris against the anti-migration policies of Salvini, including the mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando, who also declared his willingness to open his city’s port for the blocked ships.

Their offers add to a growing challenge from opposition politicians to Salvini’s far-right League, which has vowed to bar migrants and make life difficult for those already here. In November, Italy passed a controversial new immigration law that has made the expulsion of migrants easier, among other things.

The debate about the two rescue vessels continues to pick up steam. This week, almost two dozen humanitarian group, including Amnesty International and the United Nations' International Organization for Migration, called on the European Union to offer a safe port to both vessels. 

According to the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR, more than 2,200 migrants have died or gone missing trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean last year, 1,300 of those died migrants have died trying to reach Italy or Malta via the central Mediterranean Route, the International Organization for Migration recently reported. 

Last update: January 7, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.


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