The migrant rescue ship Ocean Viking, run by two French charities, floats in the distance, as it waits in international waters between Malta and southern Italy for access to a port in this handout picture taken between Aug. 9 and 12, 2019.
The migrant rescue ship Ocean Viking, run by two French charities, floats in the distance, as it waits in international waters between Malta and southern Italy for access to a port in this handout picture taken between Aug. 9 and 12, 2019.

ROME - In what risks becoming the latest migrant standoff with Italy, the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking, carrying 356 migrants, including more than 100 minors, mainly from Sudan, has been stranded at sea awaiting port access for nearly two weeks.
 
After 13 days at sea, the plight of the migrants on board the NGO rescue ship remains unclear. France has said it is prepared to take 40 of the 356 migrants. Charity officials say the migrants are increasingly concerned about what will happen to them and fearful they may be returned to Libya. But Paris also has said the principle of sailing to the nearest port is solid.

Malta already has denied the ship access to its port, and Italy has not responded to the requests made by the NGO vessel. Italy, which at present is focused on resolving a political crisis, has been taking a hard line with its closed ports policy, implemented by far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.

The Ocean Viking is a vessel run by two French charities: Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee. The migrants on board were rescued in four different missions off the coast of Libya. They include about 90 unaccompanied minors.

Rescued migrants rest aboard the Ocean Viking ship in the Mediterranean Sea, Aug. 21, 2019, in this still image taken from a social media video. (MSF via Reuters)

Charity workers on board say the supplies are running low and the crew has decided to ration showers to save water. Luca Pigozzi, one of the doctors on board the Ocean Viking, says the migrants already are traumatized and have been through much suffering.

Pigozzi said, “the most serious emergency at the moment is the psychological emergency. These people are suffering from very severe psychological traumas, many have been tortured or sexually abused.”

Pigozzi added that this waiting in the confined space of the ship can only worsen their psychological conditions.

Doctors Without Borders project coordinator Jay Berger said “a rescue ship is like an ambulance where people should be transported — not living on it.” He called the situation “shameful” and “inhumane.”

Berger added that “leaving migrants on boats for weeks until the crisis becomes an emergency is becoming the new norm.” He said it is taking too long for a solution to be found.

Talks are underway to find other European nations prepared to accept migrants, although none, other than France, have come forward for the time being.