Rescue ship Ocean Viking stuck at sea with 104 migrants

MILAN (AP) – The humanitarian rescue ship Ocean Viking remained stuck at sea on Friday with 104 migrants on board, a week after rescuing them off Libya despite an European Union (EU) plan designed to resolve such cases.

French charities SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders, which operate the ship, say they have requested permission to land in either Italy or Malta. But SOS Mediterranee said there has been no response so far.

The Ocean Viking was previously offered Libya as a place of safety, but refused to land there. SOS Mediterranee said that “no port in Libya can be considered safe according to international law.”

Only seven EU member countries have agreed to participate in a “fast-track” plan, which would screen migrants, relocate asylum-seekers and return those who don’t apply or qualify within four weeks.

Seven humanitarian groups met on Friday with Italy’s interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese, pressing their case for organised rescues that put the primary responsibility on national governments.

The groups said that a system needed to be put in place that “is capable of guaranteeing respect for life and human rights, containing death and suffering”.

They urged an end to interceptions of migrant ships by the Libyan coast guard, which they called a violation of international law since Libya is not regarded as a safe port by the EU or the United Nations.

And they called on Europe to agree to disembark migrants in the nearest port, “avoiding days of waiting in physically and psychologically vulnerable conditions, as is happening today for the Ocean Viking”.

The groups participating in the meeting were Doctors without Borders, Mediterranea, Open Arms, Pilotes Volontaires, Sea Eye, Sea Watch and SOS Meditterranee.Lamorgese’s office called the meeting “a first step towards launching an exchange between the parties,” the news agency ANSA reported.

The Ocean Viking rescue ship enters the commercial port of Taranto in Taranto, southern Italy. PHOTO: AP