A ship carrying 40 migrants, including two pregnant women, has been stranded for two weeks in the Mediterranean, after four countries refused it permission to dock.
The Tunisian-flagged offshore supply vessel, the Sarost 5, is currently three kilometers from Zarzis on the southeastern Tunisian coat, the ship’s second-in-command, Aymen Ourari, said.
The ship is the latest to be caught up in the diplomatic deadlock over what to do with migrants rescued from the Mediterranean: Malta, France, Italy and Tunisia have all rebuffed requests for it to dock.
Ourari told CNN that if the Sarost is forced to remain at sea, the 14-strong crew foresees “serious incidents” for those on board, who have “about three or four days’ worth of food” among them.
The international humanitarian agency the Red Crescent visited the boat Wednesday, Ourari said, describing the situation as a “health crisis.”
The 40 migrants were picked up on July 13 from a wooden boat that got into difficulties while attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Libya.
Mongi Slim, the regional president of the Red Crescent in Medenine, Tunisia, called for a political solution. “There is a need for negotiations to be held at a global level,” he told CNN. Slim said he hoped for a “positive humanitarian outcome” but it was up to politicians to decide the next step.
Red Crescent spokesman Matthew Cochrane told CNN that its doctors managed to get on the boat earlier this week to assist people in poor health conditions and provide food and water. “We addressed the most pressing needs of people on board but this is clearly not sustainable. People have a right to be treated with dignity and respect,” he said.
Images from the Sarost 5 show people sleeping outside on the main deck in makeshift beds made of plastic sheets.
Aliguo Gift, a 23-year-old from Guinea who was among the people rescued, appealed for help in a video provided by Ourari.
“We are begging for people to come and help us here,” she said in the video. “We left our various countries because we need help and there is no help there in our country, that’s why we leave. We left our country just to embark on this journey. It has not been easy for us. We need your support, we need your help.”
Another migrant, 28-year-old Febnchak Yukbuin Landry, recounted in a second video his ordeal in Libyan prison, where he was sold three times and tortured, he said.
“Do you know… being in this place, it is not what we wanted,” he said. “We decided, the moment when humanity does not want to help us. Honestly, we are overwhelmed. Our level of living is truly, truly pitiful. We live badly. We are all dead.”
A political game
The European Commission said earlier this week it would give €6,000 ($7,000) to member states for every migrant disembarking from the Mediterranean, in an effort to break the impasse over the issue.
But there is no sign of a solution for those on board the Sarost 5.
Malta denied that it should have taken the migrants. In a statement on July 19, Malta rejected claims that it illegally directed the boat into Tunisian territorial waters.
“Malta strongly refutes allegations in some reports quoting organizations saying that Malta broke international rules when directing rescued migrants to be disembarked in Tunisia,” the statement read. “The applicable conventions stipulate that disembarkation should take place at the nearest place of safety. In this case, Tunisia was the nearest place that satisfies the requirement as a safe place of disembarkation.”
The statement also said officials there were told that the migrants “initially refused to be rescued unless they would be taken to a European port, irrespective of international rule.”
“Such a situation would not only have been illegal but would have created a precedent against the said rules. It was only later that they accepted to board the ship that rescued them, and which complied with international rules.”
A spokesperson for the French Maritime Prefecture of the Mediterranean declined to comment on whether the ship was prevented from docking in France, pointing to a lack of authorization to provide information on matters related to migration.
CNN also contacted the governments of Tunisia and Italy, but has yet to receive a response.