By Beatriz Rios
(EurActiv) — Italy’s courts ordered the Spanish rescue vessel Open Arms to disembark in Lampedusa on Tuesday (21 August) but 356 people are still trapped at sea in an SOS Mediterranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) operated boat, known as the Ocean Viking vessel.
“After all their experiences of insecurity and the traumatising journey from their home countries through Libya on to a rubber boat, any delay in allowing them to disembark in a port of safety will once again expose them to uncertainty and anxiety: make them feel worthless and unwelcome,” a medical team leader on the boat named as ‘Stefanie’ said.
The vessel has been stranded at sea since 13 August. According to MSF, the vessel has requested support from both Maltese and Italian authorities. While Malta has refused to open its docks arguing the rescue did not take place in their territorial waters, Italy simply hasn’t responded.
No other EU country has offered a safe port for the ship since. The European Commission is aware and has raised the question with member states.
“The Commission would welcome the same spirit of solidarity that has been shown by member states in the Open Arms case for the migrants in the Ocean Viking vessel,” the EU’s executive spokesperson Natasha Bertaud said, quoting Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos.
But it has taken 18 days before Spain would offer a safe port for Open Arms and it was only after a local prosecutor intervened that the ship was allowed to dock in Lampedusa.
The Ocean Vikings have currently 356 people on board that were rescued in four different operations between 9 and 12 August. Almost a third of the migrants are minors, 92 of them travelled alone.
“In our clinic onboard the Ocean Viking, we treat physical wounds and conditions and try as much as possible to at least offer a minimum of psychological first aid. But what they need is broader psychological support than we will ever be able to provide with our team in a short time onboard the ship,” Stefanie explained.
The Commission recalled that it has been a long time advocating for a common European system for coordination of disembarkations, to avoid cases like this.
Member states to welcome Open Arms rescued migrants
On Tuesday evening, an Italian prosecutor ordered the disembarkation of a hundred migrants from the Spanish rescue vessel Open Arms, who were stranded at sea for 19 days, on the island of Lampedusa.
Spain had offered a safe port and to escort the vessel back to the country. However, the charity rejected the plan, arguing that given the serious condition of the people on board, such a long journey was “inviable.”
The Spanish government has threatened to fine the NGO for carrying out search and rescue operations without permission, as the vessel was only allowed to transport humanitarian aid to the Aegean sea.
After visiting the boat, Luigi Patronaggio, chief prosecutor of Agrigento, ordered the immediate disembarkation of the people on board, who will now be reallocated.
The European Commission has confirmed that Spain, Germany, France, Portugal and Luxembourg remain ready to welcome the migrants rescued by Open Arms.
“We are ready to start coordinating the reallocation efforts and to provide support in operational terms to the Italian authorities on the ground in Italy,” a European Commission spokesperson confirmed.
However, the EU executive admitted the process could take longer than usual given the current political crisis in Italy and the last-minute change of the disembarkation port, as the Commission had been coordinating the operation with Spanish, not Italian authorities.