Weeks-long standoffs in Mediterranean becoming ‘new normal’

MILAN (AP) — The Ocean Viking carrying 356 people, mostly Africans, rescued in the Mediterranean off Libya is closing in on two weeks at sea without being assigned a safe port to offload the traumatised passengers — a situation that charity workers decry as “the new normal” as Europe fails to devise a systematic response.

It “is a complete shame. It is inhumane,” Project Coordinator for Doctors Without Borders on the Ocean Viking Jay Berger said by satellite phone yesterday. “There needs to be concrete action. This is not how people should be treated.”

The Ocean Viking conducted four rescues off Libya from August 9-12, and is in its 13th day without being permitted to disembark the rescued people, as dictated by maritime law.

The ship, with a stated capacity of 200 passengers, has been sailing between the Italian island of Linosa and Malta, staying out of sight of land as that would only excite the rescued people.

So far, there have been no medical emergencies or outbreaks of tension, as was the case on the Spanish rescue ship Open Arms, which disembarked on Tuesday night on the Italian island of Lampedusa after a prosecutor ordered the vessel seized as part of investigations into possible charges of kidnapping, failure to provide aid and a safe port.

Rescued migrants rest on the deck of the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking vessel, operated by two French humanitarian groups, as it sails in the waters near the Italian island of Linosa. PHOTO: AP