MILAN – Twenty-seven migrants who have grown increasingly distressed aboard a Danish tanker since being rescued at sea more than a month ago have been transferred to a humanitarian rescue ship, a nongovernmental organization said Friday.
Mediterranea Saving Humans immediately appealed to Malta to offer a safe port, after taking the migrants on board its ship Mare Jonio.
The migrants have been caught in a standoff since being rescued by the Danish-flagged chemical tanker from a flimsy fishing boat just before it sank in the central Mediterranean on Aug. 5. Neither Italy nor Malta has offered a safe port to disembark.
The 185-meter-long (610-foot) tanker, the Maersk Etienne, had sounded an alarm that food and fresh water were running low, amid a worsening situation with three migrants having jumped overboard and the threat of a hunger strike.
“Our medical team found them in serious psycho-physical conditions that make it impossible for them to stay on the petrol tanker," Mediterranea Saving Humans tweeted.
The Maltese government has said that that the rescue occurred in Tunisia’s search and rescue area.
Despite Malta’s insistence, Mediterranea Saving Humans said Friday that Malta was responsible for the search and rescue area where the migrants were picked up on Aug. 5. It has requested that Malta authorities “disembark these people in urgent need of treatment.” Most are from northern Africa, and they include a pregnant woman and a child.
While the fate of the migrants remained unclear, the shipping company Maersk Tankers said a statement that the Etienne would head to a “suitable port” to debrief the crew “and ensure they too get the care they need.”
“We are relieved and grateful. The rescued persons can now finally get the medical care they need and our crew can continue their voyage safely,” said Tommy Thomassen, chief technical officer of Maersk Tankers. “While we are appreciative of the support from Mediterranea in helping us to bring a closure to this unprecedented situation, we are at the same time deeply concerned that it has not been possible to find a solution to the situation before now.”