Updated | Stranded migrant vessel receives water and food as standoff enters second day

Journalists onboard the Eleonore said the rescued migrants had spent the night with ‘far less than one sq.m per person’ • Ship receives food and water outside territorial waters

Migrants onboard the Eleonore spent the night with less than one sq.m each (Photo: Johannes Filous)
Migrants onboard the Eleonore spent the night with less than one sq.m each (Photo: Johannes Filous)

The NGO-operated vessel Eleonore which has been refused entry into Malta remains stranded just outside Maltese territorial waters as it awaits a safe port to disembark 101 rescued migrants.

The migrants were rescued from a rubber dinghy yesterday which was rapidly deflating, the NGO said yesterday, adding that the Libyan coastguard had unsuccessfully tried to intervene.

Malta has so far turned down a request for the migrants to be brought to Malta, insisting that it had no competence in the rescue, which took place within the Libyan search and rescue region. Italy has maintained its policy of refusing entry to any NGO ship.

The Eleonore is operated by the German NGO Mission Lifeline, and captained by Claus-Peter Reisch, who was earlier this year fined by a Maltese court in relation to a similar standoff last summer.

The NGO said on Wednesday that it was not in a position to manage a “prolonged standoff”, and requested urgent diplomatic intervention to disembark those onboard.

The ship was just outside Maltese territorial waters on Wednesday morning
The ship was just outside Maltese territorial waters on Wednesday morning

Yesterday, Reisch claimed in a tweet that in addition to refusing the ship entry into, Maltese authorities had also denied the ship permission to restock food and water.

This was however denied by the government, with a spokesperson telling MaltaToday that the vessel was free to make arrangements and receive supplies outside territorial waters if it wished to do so.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mission Lifeline said that in the absence of any support from governments, it was again forced to make its own arrangements to provide those onboard with food and water.

“A supply boat has now reached the Eleonore. The vessel is being supplied with water, couscous, apples, disinfectant and more. The kids of the captain from the commercial supply boat even put some toys in the supply bags for children onboard Eleonore,” tweeted Seegezwitscher, a Twitter account documenting rescue missions on board the vessel.

The migrants onboard have now entered their second day on the relatively small ship.

“The people aboard the Eleonore spent the second night with far less than one square metre per person. The Eleonore is in contact with the German Foreign Office and Home Affairs ministry. We’ve just served a small breakfast: energy bars and sweet tea,”

Journalists on the ship have said that at the moment the sea is calm, however should the wind pick up, it would not be suited to carry that many people. 

All the rescued migrants are reportedly male and include 30 minors, 15 of whom are unaccompanied.

Sources who spoke to MaltaToday said that the country’s reception centre was not in a position to receive any more rescued people, having seen over 500 people disembarked in Malta since Friday.

These included 356 rescued migrants who were rescued by the Ocean Viking and transferred onto AFM patrol boat after having been stranded at sea for almost three weeks.

More than 160 migrants were rescued by the AFM in two separate operations on Monday.

In addition to the national authorities, the ship’s crew have also requested the assistance of EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. In a letter sent yesterday, the crew said it recognized the historical contribution of frontline EU Member States providing safety for vulnerable people fleeing war in Libya, where defenseless civilians are increasingly targeted.

“However, we are not in a position to manage a prolonged stand-off and, in order not to unduly burden the same frontline EU Member States, we as or your urgent diplomatic intervention to disembark our guests,” the crew said.

“As a German NGO operating a German vessel, we are in contact with our flag-state to encourage a swift and humane solution for the 101 people on board, based on EU solidarity and responsibility-sharing.

“Our overwhelming priority is their wellbeing and we will consider every course of action available to protect our guests.

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