A humanitarian ship carrying 64 rescued migrants aboard remains at sea on Friday, just outside Italian territorial waters, as the governments of Italy and Malta refuse to grant safe harbor. Meanwhile, the German run Sea-Watch organization has asked its countries diplomats to try and find a safe port for them within the EU via diplomatic channels.
The German "Sea-Watch" charity rescue ship is stranded just outside Italian territorial waters after picking up 64 migrants, including women and children just off the Libyan coast. Another 50 people from the same group reportedly remain missing.
"Sea-Watch" says it only came to the rescue of the migrants after the Libyan coastguard reportedly failed to react to a distress call from an inflatable vessel.
Today @seaeyeorg saved 64 people from drowning, 50 more are still missing since Monday. The EU is not willing to rescue them, refers to the so-called Libyan coastguard, which does not send ships - One day after the Netherlands prohibits our ship from rescuing for flimsy reasons. https://t.co/ByUSJHP6z9— Sea-Watch International (@seawatch_intl) April 3, 2019
The "Watch the Med" association specified that it had received a call for help by the boat at around 0830 GMT on Wednesday.
"The authorities were unreachable," Watch the Med said, referring to the Libyan coastguard, which is in charge of search and rescue missions in the zone off Zouara.
Watch the Med added it had received distress calls from two other vessels which had left Libya in recent days with a total 91 people aboard. The Italian coastguard said Tuesday they had information on one of the two boats and had passed on the relevant information to their Libyan counterparts. But according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) there was "still no news" of either vessel.
'Go to Hamburg'
Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini meanwhile repeated his hardline stance on immigration, suggesting the vessel should rather seek accommodation elsewhere:
"A German-registered vessel, a German NGO, a German ship owner and a skipper from Hamburg - best it heads for Hamburg," said Salvini. The government of Malta has followed a similar policy, so far.
Italy has repeatedly rejected non-governmental rescue boats approaching its coastlines with migrants saved at sea in the Mediterranean. In some instances, boats have been forced to return migrants to Libya, where they face other dangers including human trafficking, kidnap, torture and rape, according to the United Nations and a number of other aid groups.
Carlotta Weibl, spokeswoman for the German humanitarian organization Sea-Eye, told The Associated Press that even if the rescue vessel were to take Salvini up on his word, "it's a journey of 3-4 weeks. We don't have food and water, so it's completely out of the question."
Weibl added that at the moment, the Sea-Watch vessel is the only humanitarian ship operating in the Mediterranean after numerous governments denied private aid ships their permissions to keep their operations active.
Italy and Malta's refusal to accept the stranded migrants sets the stage for another Mediterranean standoff that can only be resolved if European governments agree to accept them.
Similar standoffs in recent months involving rescue ships hoping to reach Italy and Malta were eventually resolved when a number of individual EU members agreed to take the migrants and share the burden among them. In fact, that is what Berlin is now trying to do. A spokesperson for Germany's Interior Ministry, Stefan Ruwwe-Gloesenkamp is reported to have told the news agency Associated Press (AP) that Berlin has asked the European Union's executive Commission to coordinate a search for a safe port. AP reported that he trusted that "a large number of member states" would be prepared to take in migrants and that Berlin was also ready to "do its part."
With additional reporting updates from Emma Wallis.