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Migrants stuck in limbo over a month aboard rescue ship

iStock/claffra
iStock/claffra

BY: PHOEBE NATANSON, ABC News

(ROME) — Diplomatic negotiations are ongoing as 27 migrants who were rescued by a commercial tanker more than a month ago in the Mediterranean are still stranded on board.

The ship is anchored less than 20 miles off the coast of Malta.

The Danish shipping company, Maersk tankers which owns the ship, is still waiting to find out in which port and country the ship can dock and offload the migrants so the ship can carry on with its work and journey.

The 27 migrants of unconfirmed nationalities, including a pregnant woman and at least one minor, were picked up off a small fishing boat on Aug. 4 in Tunisian waters and have been stuck on the Danish-flagged ship ever since, according to a statement released by the Danish ship company.

Malta’s government have requested the migrants’ rescue but both Malta and nearby Tunisia have denied port entry to the vessel.

Communication staff for the tanker company told ABC News on Thursday that “unfortunately, we have not been informed that a solution has been found.”

Speaking on Maltese television Monday, the island’s Prime Minister Robert Abela said it was up to Denmark to solve the problem as the ship was operated by a Danish company.

Danish Acting Immigration Minister Kaare Dybvad told Danish TV Wednesday that Denmark had been trying to find a diplomatic solution ever since the migrants were rescued and are hoping Tunisia — the country where the migrants reportedly set sail from — will agree to take them in.

According to international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, all vessels at sea have a legal and moral obligation to help others in distress and then deliver the rescued persons to the nearest safe port.

On Saturday, the captain of the tanker reported that three of the migrants jumped overboard in what seemed to be a desperate move to bring attention to their cause. They were rescued soon afterward and brought back on the ship.

For now, Volodymyr Jerosjkin, the captain of the ship said they have enough food, water and blankets on board to take care of the migrants but he added that the ship’s 21 crew members are not sufficiently trained or capable to give the correct medical assistance the rescued migrants urgently require. Jerosjkin said the migrants are “anxious to disembark, anxious to get in touch with their loved ones and family. They just simply want to step ashore.” He said that as the migrants’ frustration increases he has seen them increasingly flout the ship’s rules and instructions.

“A tanker ship is neither designed nor equipped to accommodate additional people,” a press release from the tanker company appealing for action stated and also highlighted the fact that the tanker was just doing its duty.

Both the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration have spoken out about the lack of political response to this crisis.

Anna Gaarslev, a correspondent for DR Danish TV approached the tanker by sea Wednesday but was not allowed to board for safety reasons. The migrants were seen on video shouting and telling her they were imprisoned and wanted help.

On Thursday, the Danish government appointed an envoy to further a new approach on migration to Europe and to “ensure that real refugees are helped faster and better in the surrounding areas.”

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