Migrant rescue ship pleads for help as Mediterranean countries refuse entry

'Many of the survivors currently on board are in a state of acute mental distress, having experienced violence and abuse in Libya'

After suicide attempts, fights erupting on board, and migrants jumping into the sea, charity SOS Mediterranee launched an emergency alert on Friday, demanding to be allowed to immediately disembark at a safe port.

The humanitarian group, whose vessel the Ocean Viking has been at sea for over a week with 180 migrants aboard, said it could no longer guarantee the safety of the migrants or crew and called a state of emergency in an unprecedented step.

The boat, which has been in limbo in the Mediterranean south of Sicily, has been waiting for over a week for permission from Italy or Malta to offload the migrants at a safe port.
The plea from SOS Mediterranee appears to highlight problems in resuming the Malta agreement, an EU deal to treat migrants humanely, after the coronavirus pandemic closed borders.

The Malta agreement promises to "set up a more predictable and efficient temporary solidarity mechanism in order to ensure the dignified disembarkation of migrants taken aboard, on the high seas, by vessels in a place of safety".
The rescued migrants on board the Ocean Viking had already spent several days at sea in harsh conditions before being saved and now they are in need of medical attention, for mental and physical conditions.

"Many of the survivors currently on board are in a state of acute mental distress, having experienced violence and abuse in Libya, oftentimes in arbitrary detention for extended periods of time, having just endured a near-death experience at sea and now being faced with the uncertainty about when and where they will be able disembark," a spokeswoman told The National.
"Many survivors are showing signs of agitation, depression, extreme mental fatigue. A physical condition we see in many of the survivors is skin burns, caused by a mixture of fuel and salt water in the unseaworthy dinghies they attempted the crossing in."

She added: "A ship at sea is not a 'place of safety' for people who were rescued after being in distress at sea on unseaworthy boats for hours or days before being rescued."
The 22-strong crew on board the Ocean Viking picked up the 180 migrants in four operations, in waters near Malta and Lampedusa, an Italian island between the Maltese archipelago and Tunisia.
The rescued include a 12 year old boy and a pregnant woman and include 13 different nationalities, including Libyans. One person has also been evacuated as a medical emergency.

Frédéric Penard, SOS Mediterranee's director of operations, criticised shortcomings in the restarting of the Malta agreement.
"This lack of solidarity and burden sharing among EU member states has direct implications for the 180 survivors who risked their lives to flee violence and abuse in war-torn Libya: tensions on board our vessel are rising with several survivors threatening to jump overboard," Mr Penard said.

The Ocean Viking set sail from Marseille on June 22 and has been operating in the eastern Mediterranean north of Libya and south of Italy.
"We have heard from survivors how in a detention centre in Libya guards beat a survivor on his leg with a steel stick until they broke his foot," Mr Penard said.
"Countless people have told us they tried to flee Libya several times, were intercepted by the Libyan coastguard at sea and brought back to detention in a never-ending vicious circle."

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