Six migrants aboard a rescue boat in the Mediterranean tried to kill themselves and others have fought and threatened fellow passengers and crew members in growing desperation over their inability to find a country willing to take them in.
SOS Mediterranee, which operates the Ocean Viking, said in a statement that the ship carrying 180 migrants declared an emergency to emphasize the deteriorating situation on board as the crew renews its appeal for safe harbor.
“This is an unprecedented step in SOS MEDITERRANEE history, triggered first and foremost by the rapid deterioration of mental health of some of the survivors on board, especially among a group of 44 people,”
“The 44 people for whom we sought help are in acute mental anguish, expressed intent to harm both themselves and others, including crew members, and expressed suicide ideas. “
The charity said it submitted seven requests for permits to enter a port and said it had received a negative response from Italy and Malta following its initial request for a port, and no replies to its six subsequent requests.
At the same time, Italy answered with a psychologist’s phone number, the group says.
🔴 UPDATE: Following the declaration of an emergency on board #OceanViking, the Italian maritime authorities informed us of a forthcoming visit by a psychologist on board. We are still waiting for this visit and remember that the survivors should board immediately. pic.twitter.com/wKBJ2VRQdj
– SOS MEDITERRANEE (@SOSMedIntl) July 3, 2020
There were no immediate government responses from any of the countries about the alleged refusal.
The migrants were rescued from the priceless boats with human traffickers in the central Mediterranean during four operations between June 25 and June 30.
SOS Mediterranee said the first operation took place in international waters where Italy and Malta have overlapping rescue jurisdictions, while the other rescues occurred in Malta’s search and rescue area.
“I don’t feel safe”
The rescued persons include a pregnant woman and 25 minors, 17 of whom travel without relatives or guardians, the charity says.
The migrants, which include Pakistanis, North Africans, Eritreans, Nigerians and others, were picked up after moving from Libya in four separate rescues of the Ocean Viking.
In addition to threatening to injure themselves or others, some of the passengers have started fighting with each other, it said.
SOS Mediterranee said two migrants jumped overboard in what the organization said appeared to be suicide attempts and were rescued from the sea again, while three others were stopped before dropping off the ship. It reported that another passenger was trying to kill himself on board, the charity says.
It dubbed “Regarding Behavior and Mental Health Decline” for some of the rescued passengers for “a direct result of the unnecessary standoff at sea and lack of solution” for a port.
SOS Mediterranee expressed concern that “in addition to the acute psychological distress that many of the survivors are in, the deteriorating weather conditions pose an even greater threat to the lives of those who can try to reach the coast by jumping off” Ocean Viking.
An AFP news agency reporter aboard the boat said tensions have increased over the past week as migrants become increasingly desperate to reach shore. Others have been upset about not being able to call their families to inform them that they were safe.
The dangers and struggles of migration from the Mediterranean
A member of the crew, Ludovic, told AFP that he had never witnessed any such violence aboard a rescue vessel, following a battle of fighting between migrants and threats of suicide.
“I don’t feel safe,” Ludovic said. “We have to find a port now, it’s a matter of security.”
Nicholas Romaniuk, in charge of rescue operations on board, said there was no “legal or moral reason” to keep migrants on board.
“It is Malta who warned us and gave us the position as one of the boats in distress and now they are not answering the phone,” Romaniuk said.
More than 100,000 migrants tried to cross the Mediterranean last year with more than 1,200 dying in the attempt, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Both Italy and Malta have taken a hard line on private lifeboats and expressed concern that such operations could encourage Libya-based traffickers to continue launching migrants to Europe under dangerous conditions.
The two countries have also insisted that other EU members take in more migrants as asylum seekers as those who reach Europe’s southern shores often aim to make countries in northern Europe their final destinations. Few nations have responded to the Italian and Maltese appeals.
The arrival of summer and more favorable conditions at sea can lead to an increase in attempts to cross the Mediterranean with the hope of arriving in Europe.