Italy’s Transport Minister, Danilo Toninelli urged the UK government to take in 141 migrants on board Aquarius because the ship is sailing under the flag of Gibraltar, a British territory.
The vessel which is operated by French charities Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and SOS Méditerranée, has been refused entry by authorities from Italy and Malta.
The Aquarius is now midway between Italy and Malta, awaiting disembarkation notice. Most of the migrants onboard are from Somalia and Eritrea with 67 unaccompanied minors.
“The 141 rescued people are safe onboard the Aquarius, and the situation is calm,” said an SOS Méditerranée spokeswoman. “There are no medical emergencies, but there are two pregnant women and most are weak and exhausted from the arduous journey.”
According to MSF, five ships sailed past the migrants before they were rescued by Aquarius last Friday.
Aloys Vimard, MSF’s project coordinator onboard Aquarius said, “It seems the very principle of rendering assistance to persons in distress at sea is now at stake. Ships might be unwilling to respond to those in distress due to the high risk of being stranded and denied a place of safety,”
A spoke person of the British government stated ““We are deeply concerned for the welfare of 141 migrants who have been rescued from the Mediterranean by sailing vessel Aquarius.”
“It is well-established that responsibility for arranging disembarkation, at a nearby safe port, is assumed by the relevant regional maritime rescue coordination, and in accordance with the wishes of the ship’s master.
“The UK is committed to working with European partners long-term to tackle the shared challenge of irregular migration.”
UK chose not to participate in Europe’s controversial relocation program, which requires other EU members to provide shelter to a set number of refugees from Greece and Italy. The current plight of the migrants onboard Aquarius mirrors the tensions within EU over migration policy.