ON BOARD THE OCEAN VIKING (AFP) – Six European Union (EU) countries on Friday agreed to take in 356 migrants stranded on a rescue ship in the Mediterranean after a two-week standoff again exposed the failure of European leaders to deal quickly with desperate people fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa.
The Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking, run by charities MSF and SOS Mediterranee, had been seeking a port after rescuing four boats of migrants off the Libyan coast between August 9 and 12.
The migrants screamed with joy as the news broke, the adults sweeping their children into their arms and dancing and singing.
After talks with the European Commission, Malta agreed its navy would transfer the migrants to the island but they would not be allowed to stay.
Those rescued, who were disembarked by the navy at 2100 GMT, will be relocated to France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal and Romania.
Charities had warned that food supplies on the 69-metre boat were running out and the migrants and staff were jubilant as the deal was announced.
“Thank you, Mama,” the youngsters rescued said, kissing MSF nurse Mary Jo, who has taken care of them.
They hugged their saviours – Tanguy, Clement, Antonin, Basile, Eric and Alessandro.
The agreement was made as another rescue boat, the Mare Jonio, set off for Libyan waters, the Italian left-wing collective Mediterranea which runs the ship said in a tweet.
Rescue charities have been scathing about the lack of coordination and solidarity among EU member states in dealing with migration standoffs in recent years, with tens of thousands making the perilous trip across the Mediterranean.
“We are relieved this long ordeal for the 356 people we have on board is finally over. Was it necessary to impose two weeks of excruciating wait for rescued people to be disembarked?” said Jay Berger, MSF’s project coordinator onboard the Ocean Viking.