Published: August 13, 2019
ON BOARD THE OCEAN VIKING: French charities SOS Mediterranean and MSF rescued another 105 migrants off the coast of Libya on Monday, bringing to 356 the number of those aboard the Ocean Viking ship now seeking a safe port.
The migrants’ blue rubber dinghy started to deflate and sink as the charity vessel approached, and several of them fell into the water, an AFP journalist said.
Those rescued on Monday around 40 nautical miles from Libya in international waters are all male, mostly Sudanese, and include 29 minors of whom two are boys aged five and 12.
The rescue is the fourth in as many days for the Ocean Viking, which is equipped to carry 200-250 people although the number on board could increase beyond 356, the charities have said.
The charities have said fair weather conditions are likely encouraging more departures from Libyan shores.
A further incentive is that a three-day Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha, which kicked off on Sunday, may reduce the presence of authorities patrolling Libyan beaches.
Malta refuses to take migrants
The rescues come at a time of tension between Italy and other EU states, with the Italian government refusing to let migrants land on its shores unless its EU partners shoulder their share of the burden.
The Maltese authorities, contacted by the Ocean Viking after Monday’s rescue, refused to take in the migrants, saying they were obliged to do so only for those picked up in the country’s rescue zone.
It is not known how many of those rescued are asylum seekers.
All the migrants aboard the Norway-registered Ocean Viking were rescued off of Libya, but the ship’s operations coordinator Nicholas Romaniuk said efforts to contact the Libyan coastguard have failed for the past five days.
In Rome, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini repeated his insistence on an “absolute prohibition” of entry by either the Ocean Viking or the Open Arms vessel of the Spanish charity Proactiva to enter Italian territorial waters.
Another 150 rescued migrants are stuck aboard the Open Arms off the coast of Italy’s southern Lampedusa island.
Open Arms on Monday called on Spain to grant asylum to the 31 minors among them.
“All the minors... fulfil the conditions for recognition as refugees,“ Open Arms captain Marc Reig wrote to the Spanish embassy in Malta, asking it to relay the request to Madrid.
Earlier Proactiva’s founder Oscar Camps tweeted: “Italy forbids the Open Arms from entering Italian territorial waters to seek shelter at Lampedusa. Malta forbids entry to its territorial waters to seek shelter. Everything is great.”
He also warned of huge sea swells forecast for Wednesday afternoon. — AFP source