Sea rescuers “aquarius 2” in the mediterranean: refugees can not get off the boat

The refugees rescued by the "Aquarius 2" are distributed among four EU countries. However, it may still take several days before they can get ashore.

With the "Aquarius 2", the last active private rescue ship in the zone off Libya is decommissioned Photo: Maud Veith/SOS Mediterranee/dpa

The transfer of rescued refugees on the ship "Aquarius 2" to Malta is delayed. The reason is bad weather, a spokeswoman for the aid organization SOS Mediterranee told Deutsche Presse-Agentur on Wednesday. It could take two to three days before the 58 refugees can board a Maltese ship that is supposed to bring them ashore.

The "Aquarius 2" itself is not allowed to dock in the port of the island nation, but continues to Marseille in southern France. There, the ship is likely to lose its flag: The flag state of Panama had announced that it would remove it from its shipping register. Thus, the last still active private rescue ship in the zone off Libya would be shut down for the time being.

Germany has agreed to take 15 of the 58 refugees, it was said on Tuesday from the French government. The remaining refugees are to be taken to France, Spain and Portugal. Previously, Malta had allowed the migrants to go ashore in the island nation – to then be distributed "immediately" to other countries.

Government leader Joseph Muscat said on the short message service Twitter that the 58 migrants would be "picked up in international waters by a Maltese ship and brought to Malta." According to a Maltese government spokesman, the operation will begin "as soon as it is logistically possible." Malta is participating in the operation for purely "humanitarian reasons".

Dramatic odyssey

In the meantime, the aid organizations SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Fronti̬res had asked to take the refugees to Marseille Рbut France insisted on the principle that those rescued at sea should be taken to the nearest safe port.

Italy’s government has refused to allow aid ships carrying refugees to dock in its ports since the summer. Italy’s right-wing Interior Minister Matteo Salvini accused the "Aquarius" of operating a "cab service" for migrants. Since the summer, several rescue ships have strayed through the Mediterranean in search of a port, including the "Aquarius."

The ship’s odyssey in June was particularly dramatic after it took 630 refugees on board off the Libyan coast. Italy and Malta refused to allow the "Aquarius" to dock; after days of waiting, it was finally allowed to enter the port of the Spanish city of Valencia, and the refugees were allowed to disembark. In August, 141 refugees on the "Aquarius" were allowed to go ashore in Malta only after a long wait, after five EU countries, including Germany, had agreed to accept them.

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