Ships ‘not willing to save Mediterranean migrants’ say aid groups as Aquarius seeks safe harbour

The NGO rescue ship the Aquarius has called on European governments to offer it safe harbour after rescuing 141 migrants from the Mediterranean, saying it has been stranded at sea for more than two days.

Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee, which jointly operate the Aquarius, said they had contacted authorities in Italy, Malta, Tunisia and Libya following Friday’s rescues but have been denied a place to disembark.

They called for urgent humanitarian assistance for those on board, most of whom were said to be from Somalia and Eritrea, were weak and malnourished, and included 67 unaccompanied minors.

“What is of utmost importance is that the survivors are brought to a place of safety without delay, where their basic needs can be met and where they can be protected from abuse,” said Nick Romaniuk, Search and Rescue Coordinator for SOS Mediterranee. 

The NGOs said that those on board reported encountering five boats which did not offer assistance, a “disturbing development” that suggested Italy’s ban on rescue ships was deterring crews from helping migrants in distress.

The Aquarius found itself at the centre of a major diplomatic standoff in June when both Italy and Malta turned it away, leaving it at sea with 630 migrants onboard for more than a week before it was able to dock in the Spanish port city of Valencia. 

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