The Malta Independent 24 September 2020, Thursday

Maersk Etienne migrants transferred onto NGO rescue vessel

Friday, 11 September 2020, 18:14 Last update: about 12 days ago

27 migrants who had been stranded for a month on board an oil tanker anchored off Malta have been transferred onto an NGO rescue vessel.

NGO Mediterranea said the transfer had been completed and the migrants were being seen to by medical personnel. It said the refugees were in bad psychological and physical shape and could no longer stay on the tanker. The rescue vessel is still anchored at Hurd’s Bank.

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The Maersk Etienne tanker is registered in Denmark.

The Danish government said on Monday that Tunisia was responsible for taking in the migrants. The dispute over who should take in the migrants is the latest development in Europe's endless struggle to cope with the tens of thousands taking to the Mediterranean Sea in smugglers' boats each year to find a safer, better life.

More than a month ago, the Maersk Etienne rescued the migrants, including a pregnant woman and a child, from a flimsy fishing boat just before it sank in the central Mediterranean. Its owners, Maersk Tankers, said food and fresh water were running low on the ship.

Despite weeks of talks between Maltese authorities and the company, the 186-meter-long vessel remained stuck in international waters 27 kilometers off Malta.

Last week, three of the migrants jumped overboard but were swiftly rescued by the crew and taken back on board.

In a statement, Maersk Tankers said it had become increasingly concerned for the rescued persons’ physical and mental health following their prolonged stay onboard Maersk Etienne. The situation has worsened following the recent incident where three of the persons jumped overboard, and we have seen continuous issues with minor medical aliments and a recent threat to go onto hunger strike.
 
We requested assistance and agreed with Mediterranea that they will conduct a health assessment using the medical team onboard the Mare Jonio. The transfer to the ship occurred following their assessment that the rescued persons’ condition called for immediate care in suitable medical facilities.
 
Maersk Etienne will proceed to a suitable port where we will follow up with a debriefing of the crew and ensure they too get the care they need
, the company said.
 
The captain and the crew of the Maersk Etienne have honorably fulfilled their duty at sea, and we are proud and greatly appreciative of their efforts. We thank them, Mediterranea, shipping and trade associations and human rights groups who have supported us since the rescue operation took place.

“We are relieved and grateful. The rescued persons can now finally get the medical care they need and our crew can continue their voyage safely. While we are appreciative of the support from Mediterranea in helping us to bring a closure to this unprecedent situation we are at the same time deeply concerned that it has not been possible to find a solution to the situation before now. It has been very difficult for the rescued persons and our crew,” said Tommy Thomassen, Chief Technical Officer, Maersk Tankers.

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