Malta to disembark 356 rescued migrants after two-week standoff

Malta says rescued people will be distributed among France, Luxembourg, Ireland, Germany, Portugal and Romania.

Ocean Viking
More than 100 of those on board were minors, about 90 of whom were unaccompanied [Anne Chaon/AFP]

Malta has offered to disembark 356 refugees and migrants from a rescue ship stranded in the central Mediterranean Sea after six European countries agreed to accept all of them.

In two posts on Twitter on Friday, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said those on board the Ocean Viking will be transferred to Maltese navy boats outside the country’s territorial waters.

They will then be taken onshore and distributed among France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal and Romania. None will remain in Malta, said Muscat. 

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said that France would accept 150 of the passengers.

Malta’s offer came after the NGOs running the Norwegian-flagged rescue ship – Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) and SOS Mediterranee – warned the boat was running low on supplies and had only four days of standard food rations left. 


The boat has been stranded at sea for two weeks, drifting between the Italian island of Linosa and Malta, keeping land out of sight for fear of agitating the traumatised passengers.

Many of the 356 migrants and refugees on board the Ocean Viking had fled desperate circumstances in their home countries and suffered horrific abuses in Libya, MSF said.

The asylum seekers were rescued from the sea in four separate missions earlier this month. Most were men from Sudan, while others came from Ivory CoastMali and Senegal.

More than 100 of those on board were minors, about 90 of whom were unaccompanied, according to MSF.

The Ocean Viking’s request for a safe port was previously denied by Malta and ignored by Italy

Requests for a safe port were previously denied by Malta and ignored by Italy, according to the charities. 

In a statement on Friday, MSF Project Coordinator Jay Berger said the organisation was “relieved this long ordeal for the 356 people we have on board is finally over”. But he questioned whether the “two weeks of excruciating wait” for people to be disembarked was necessary.

“While a coalition of countries have stepped up to give a humane response, European governments must stop these prolonged delays and ad hoc petty negotiations, and set up as a matter of urgency a disembarkation mechanism for people rescued at sea,” he said. 

SOS Mediterranee described the 14-day standoff as “unnecessary suffering” in a post on Twitter that was accompanied by a photo of passengers squeezed into cramped sleeping quarters on the deck of the ship.

“European states and their civil societies cannot allow such standoffs to happen again,” it said in a statement. 

The Ocean Viking will change crews and head back to Libyan waters for search and rescue missions, it added.

Libya is one of the main transit countries for migrants and refugees fleeing war and poverty as they try to reach Europe.

The war-torn country has become a hub for human trafficking rings that often send migrants off to Europe in vessels that are not seaworthy. 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies