Six migrants have attempted suicide on board the rescue vessel Ocean Viking, prompting a state of emergency to be declared.
SOS Mediterranee, which operates the Ocean Viking, said in a statement on Friday that two migrants jumped overboard and were rescued from the sea again, while three others were stopped before they jumped off the ship.
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It reported that another rescued migrant tried to kill himself on board.
The move to declare a state of emergency was taken after suicide attempts and “acute mental distress”, the statement said, adding that “the safety of the 180 survivors and the crew on board can no longer be guaranteed”.
“This is an unprecedented step triggered first and foremost by the rapid deterioration of the mental health of some of the survivors on board, particularly among a group of 44 people that the crew requested a medical evacuation for today, without any positive outcome so far,” the statement said.
🔴URGENT: we have received no response from maritime authorities to our urgent medical evacuation request sent 3 hours ago. Tensions and anxiety onboard are reaching unprecedented levels.
— SOS MEDITERRANEE (@SOSMedIntl) July 3, 2020
“The 44 people who we requested assistance for are in a state of acute mental distress, expressed intentions to inflict harm both on themselves and on others, including members of the crew, and expressed suicidal ideas.”
The vessel currently has 180 survivors on board after carrying out three rescues following resumption in its search-and-rescue operation on June 22.
Among the survivors are 25 minors – 17 of whom are unaccompanied – as well as two women, including one who is five-months pregnant.
“Several survivors complain of decreased appetite, insomnia, and mental distress regarding what they have been through, mainly in Libya.”
Seven requests to the Maltese and Italian maritime authorities to assign a port of safety to disembark the migrants have not seen “any positive response”, the statement added.
There were no immediate government responses from either country about the alleged refusals.
Libya acts as a major gateway for African migrants hoping to reach Europe. According to the United Nations, there are more than 40,000 refugees and migrants in Libya.
United Nations figures show at least 36,000 people have been intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and returned to Libya – described as “hell” by the migrants and refugees – since February 2017.
More than 11,500 people have died on the Mediterranean while attempting to reach Europe from Africa since 2016.
The European Union has reportedly spent more than 90 million euros ($100m) in funding and training the Libyan coastguard to stop the crossings.
Both Italy and Malta have taken a hard line on private rescue boats, expressing concern that such operations could encourage Libya-based human traffickers to keep launching migrants towards Europe in dangerous conditions.
The two countries have also insisted fellow EU members take in more migrants as asylum-seekers since those who reach Europe’s southern shores are often aiming to make nations in northern Europe their final destinations.
Few nations have answered the Italian and Maltese appeals.
Libya, a large oil producer, has been engulfed in chaos since 2011 when longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed in an uprising.
It is now split between two rival administrations: The internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, and the House of Representatives allied to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).