The Proactiva Open Arms reached the Spanish mainline on December 28, 2018 | Credit: picture-alliance/O. Calvo
The Proactiva Open Arms reached the Spanish mainline on December 28, 2018 | Credit: picture-alliance/O. Calvo

Two private migrant rescue boats - Spanish Open Arms and German Alan Kurdi - are waiting in vain for a safe harbor in the Mediterranean with 163 migrants on board. Some people need quick help: One of two pregnant women aboard the Open Arms has gone into labor. Meanwhile, the situation in the Mediterranean is becoming more confusing.

Proactiva Open Arms, the private Spanish migrant rescue organization, picked up more than 120 migrants from the Libyan coast in two separate rescue operations. The NGO says it is looking for a safe harbor for the migrants.

On Thursday, the NGO’s “Open Arms” search and rescue (SAR) vessel picked up 55 people stranded on a wooden boat in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast. Most of the migrants are from Eritrea, and among them are 16 women and two 9-month-old babies, the NGO said in a tweet. 

"55 rescued people who have been bought and sold as slaves, tortured, sexually abused. For them we are asking for a safe harbor," Proactiva Open Arms said on Twitter.

Early on Friday, Proactiva Open Arms head Oscar Camps said on Twitter they rescued 68 more migrants from the Libyan coast overnight to Friday.

The migrants taken in overnight showed clear signs of having been subjected to violence in Libya, Camps said. Among them were two pregnant women, one of whom has gone into labor.

Italy's hard-line Interior Minister Matteo Salvini late on Thursday banned the Spanish-flagged Open Arms vessel from entering territorial waters. That’s according to Italian news agency reports citing sources at the ministry.

Haggling about Alan Kurdi continues

Proactiva Open Arms' request for help comes as rescue boat Alan Kurdi, which rescued 40 migrants on Wednesday from a sinking boat, was at a standoff with Italian authorities after also being banned from entering territorial waters by Italy's Interior Minister Salvini. The vessel is run by German aid organization Sea-Eye.

According to Sea-Eye, Italy has requested EU member state Malta to stand up for the Alan Kurdi. The mission control center of the Italian coast guard informed Sea-Eye the Maltese authorities were responsible “even though the vessel is right in front of Lampedusa,” the NGO said on Twitter.

Salvini, who leads the far-right League party and is also Italy’s deputy prime minister, has on numerous occasions threatened to keep migrants at sea indefinitely as a way of pressuring other European Union member states to accept burden-sharing deals.

On Tuesday, Salvini had reluctantly allowed 116 rescued migrants on board an Italian coast guard ship to disembark after various EU countries agreed to have the migrants redistributed among them. In a letter, Salvini accused Germany’s federal government of “blackmailing.”

Although the EU has been arguing over a distribution mechanism for quite some time now, they have not reached a conclusion yet. Different European politicians, including Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas, have called for a “coalition of the willing” among EU countries that are prepared to accept refugees saved in the Mediterranean.

Situation in Mediterranean becomes more confusing

Private sea rescue organizations continue to struggle for their presence in the Mediterranean: Migrants rescue boats, including the Sea-Watch 3, are still stuck in Italian ports, the organizations face higher monetary fines than before, and stand-offs with authorities have been putting a strain on crews. With every new migrant rescue drama, the situation is becoming more confusing.

The only two active migrants rescue boats currently trying to save lives in the central Mediterranean are Alan Kurdi and the Open Arms. A third vessel could join them soon: Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking run by SOS Méditerranée and Doctors without Borders (MSF) is reportedly ready to leave Marseille. Originally expected to join the two boats in late July, the Ocean Viking can take some 200 people on board.

It remains unclear, meanwhile, when exactly the new ship of Mission Lifeline will be ready. The German aid organization had announced in July it was preparing a new rescue mission in the Mediterranean.

With material from dpa

 

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