A migrant rescue ship with nearly 600 people on board has warned it will run out food as early as Thursday if it cannot find a safe port for those on board to disembark.
It is currently waiting in the central Mediterranean, with its food rations rapidly running out.
The Ocean Viking, operated by NGO SOS Mediterranee, conducted six search-and-rescue operations in the past week. There are 572 migrants being cared for on board, including 183 minors, with some survivors saying they had spent up to three days in the open sea.
SOS Mediterranee said among those rescued is a partially paralysed child who has a wheelchair on board.
It called on the EU “to urgently co-ordinate” to ensure those on board can disembark.
Earlier this week, the Ocean Viking encountered 349 men, women and children on a wooden boat that had left from Libyan shores.
“Such large unseaworthy wooden boats launched from the coast of Libya had not been encountered by our teams in several years,” SOS Mediterranee said.
It said that five empty wooden boats were found, which were intercepted by the Libyan coastguard in Malta’s search-and-rescue region.
“What we have witnessed at sea these past days is harrowing,” said Luisa Albera, search-and-rescue co-ordinator for SOS Mediterranee.
She said that “all those intercepted are being forcibly and unlawfully returned to Libya, which cannot be considered a place of safety, according to maritime law".
“We are calling upon the EU to now at least co-ordinate for the disembarkation of 572 survivors, currently aboard our ship, in a place of safety.”
Some of those on board are being treated for fuel burns, dehydration and extreme exhaustion.
SOS Mediterranee said survivors reported widespread physical and sexual abuse during their time in Libyan detention centres.
“Europe can no longer remain passive in the face of recurring shipwrecks while consciously upholding a system of unspeakable abuse by supporting forced returns to Libya,” it said.
The UN’s migration agency has recorded 898 migrant deaths in the Mediterranean in 2021.
EU member states such as Italy and Malta often resist letting migrants enter their ports and say that more efforts are needed in North Africa to evaluate and organise migration requests.