Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 September 2019

Crisis in the Mediterranean: Italy blocks ship carrying 365 migrants

Doctors on board the Ocean Viking have said the health of the rescued migrants is deteriorating

Rescued migrants wait aboard the 'Ocean Viking' rescue ship, jointly operated by French NGOs SOS Mediterranee and Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF Doctors without Borders) on August 20, 2019, at sea between Malta and Lampedusa, after a search-and-rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea. The Ocean Viking rescue ship, with 356 migrants on board waits since August 14, 2019 for a safe port to dock. / AFP / Anne CHAON
Rescued migrants wait aboard the 'Ocean Viking' rescue ship, jointly operated by French NGOs SOS Mediterranee and Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF Doctors without Borders) on August 20, 2019, at sea between Malta and Lampedusa, after a search-and-rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea. The Ocean Viking rescue ship, with 356 migrants on board waits since August 14, 2019 for a safe port to dock. / AFP / Anne CHAON

Another Mediterranean rescue ship, this time carrying 365 migrants mostly from Sudan, is stuck at sea as Italian authorities continue to block relief boats from entering their territorial waters.

The Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking has been stranded at sea for 13 days, the international NGO Médecins Sans Frontières, (MSF) told The National, amid the ongoing standoff between the Italian government and charities operating rescue ships that help migrants attempting to reach Europe.

A spokeswoman for MSF, which operates the vessel alongside SOS Méditerranée, said the crew on board the Ocean Viking had made multiple requests to both the Italian and Maltese rescue coordination centres to assign a port of safety.

After a delayed response, on Wednesday, Italy told the ship it could not enter its territorial waters by government decree.

The crisis on the Mediterranean has deepened over the last year with Italy’s populist government barring rescue ships from entering its ports and introducing punitive fines against the NGOs that operate them. Earlier this month, the Italian parliament introduced fines of up to €1 million (Dh4.1m) against search and rescue ships operating between Europe and Africa.

Roughly 100 migrants, stranded off the coast of Italy for nearly three weeks on a vessel operated by Open Arms, were permitted onshore on Sunday only following the intervention of an Italian prosecutor.

According to MSF the health of many of the migrants on Ocean Viking is of particular concern. “Every day we see the situation deteriorate. There are people on board with medical conditions that could turn critical in an instant and require an evacuation,” Dr Luca Pigozzi said. “As a doctor, I cannot accept their unnecessary drawn-out suffering.”

Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, who has spearheaded the country’s anti-immigration legislation, has been unequivocal in response to the ongoing crisis. “Being firm is the only way to stop Italy from becoming Europe's refugee camp again," he tweeted on Monday.

Updated: August 22, 2019 07:00 PM

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