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Forty-day nightmare finally over as the Mare Jonio brings the Etienne 27 to land

Mediterranea slams Europe for ‘shamelessly looking away, and disregarding international law and human rights’

THE nightmare journey for 27 refugees blockaded from Europe for 40 days and left in limbo on a merchant vessel finally came to an end this weekend.

Twenty-six men and a pregnant woman fled Libya in a wooden boat on August 3.

Their boat was spotted by Moonbird, a reconnaissance plane operated by German rescue charity Sea Watch, inside Malta’s search-and-rescue zone the next day.

The plane’s crew immediately alerted the Maltese authorities and a nearby chemical tanker, the Maersk Etienne, to the distress case.

Rather than launch a rescue mission, the Maltese authorities ordered the Etienne to change course and assist the wooden boat and on August 5, the chemical tanker brought the castaways on board after their boat began to sink and then headed to Malta.

But despite coordinating the rescue, Malta refused to allow the Etienne to disembark the refugees in any of its ports, forcing the ship to wait indefinitely in international waters.

The ship’s captain and Danish owners Maersk warned repeatedly these last few weeks that the Etienne was ill-equipped to help the rescued and that their mental health was deteriorating.

Then on Friday night, Italian rescue group Mediterranea: Saving Humans announced it had received an urgent request for assistance from the Etienne and had transferred the 27 onto its ship the Mare Jonio.

“The story of this merchant ship is in fact the story of the longest stand-off ever recorded in the central Mediterranean in recent years,” Mediterranea said in a social media post on Saturday.

“Twenty-seven people, including a pregnant woman, were abandoned by the European governments for five interminable weeks, after being rescued by the crew of the Maersk Etienne as required by the law of the sea.

“We decided to respond to their desperate call for help and did what was right.

“Europe, shamelessly, looked away for 38 days in disregard for international law and human rights.

“Thirty-eight days in which the castaways slept on the ground, without being able to change their clothes, without medical assistance, putting their physical and mental health as well as their lives at risk.

“They wanted nothing more than to die. Three of them got into the water, more than one attempted suicide and they are all in devastating psychophysical conditions.

“It’s time for this shame to end. A safe haven is immediately needed for the 25 castaways still aboard the ship Mare Jonio.”

Early on Saturday the Italian coastguard evacuated the pregnant woman and her husband from the Mare Jonio.

Later that evening the Italian authorities finally allowed the refugees ashore on the island of Sicily.

Sea Watch’s head of airborne operations Tamino Bohm congratulated the Etienne and the Mare Jonio for the successful rescue operation.

But, he told The Civil Fleet, the case shows how far Europe is willing to go to avoid its legal responsibilities to the rescued.

“From the sighting of the case, to exerting pressure on various actors to make sure the recuees made it to a port of safety, it was NGOs filling in the deadly gap created by Europe’s migration policy,” Mr Bohm said.

Published by The Civil Fleet

A news blog and podcast focused on the activist-led refugee rescue and support missions across Fortress Europe

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