A cargo ship which rescued migrants on Malta's instructions on Sunday remains stuck at sea, with lawyers for the vessel's owners saying tensions aboard are reaching boiling point. 

The MS Marina picked up 79 migrants stranded at sea after being ordered to do so by Malta's rescue coordination centre. But when the ship's captain asked for permission to take the rescued people to Malta, he was told to stand by. 

Most of the migrants, three of whom are women, are from Bangladesh, with others claiming to hail from Morocco, Chad, Libya and Sudan. 

Malta has closed its ports to asylum seekers and said it cannot guarantee resources to come to the rescue of people in distress at sea. 

Knife fight claims

On Wednesday, lawyers for the MV Marina's owners, German company Klingenberg Schiffahrts Gmbh, said the situation aboard was critical. 

The ship's crew was recycling air conditioning water to use for washing and toilets and the situation on board was "very highly charged", lawyer Ann Fenech said. 

Fenech said that a group of people aboard had fought each other using knives, but that nobody was hurt in the altercation. 

The MV Marina's 13-person crew, predominantly from Ukraine and the Philippines, was not trained to deal with such a situation, she said. 

The ship and its captain had done the right thing and come to the help of people in distress, only to be "abandoned by the authorities," she said. 

Fenech said the vessel was requesting Lampedusa to allow it to disembark the migrants or else that Malta allows the vessel to resume its voyage to Malta and disembark the migrants in Malta whilst it continues to discharge and load containers.

The MV Marina was en route from Sfax in Tunisia to Malta Freeport and was scheduled to arrive at Malta Freeport on Sunday to discharge 265 containers and load another 235 containers for carriage to Sousse in Tunisia on Monday. 

Since picking up the migrants at sea, the vessel has repeatedly sought instructions on where to disembark the rescued migrants and permission to carry on with its scheduled voyage to Malta but the Malta RCC repeatedly stated that the matter had been referred to Prime Minister Robert Abela and further instructions were awaited.

Out of water

Fenech said that although the vessel has been supplied with bottled water for drinking,  the vessel is out of freshwater completely. The vessel had to resort to converting air conditioning water for washing and toilets - a mere litre of water per day per person on board.  

“The situation is dire,” the lawyer said, adding that when Malta was informed on Monday that six migrants had been taken ill, a helicopter was being sent but the decision revoked when it was informed that none were in danger of dying. 

She insisted that while Malta had adopted the 1979 Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) and the 1998 Amendments to the Convention, it had not adopted the 2004 Amendments.  Therefore, Malta still had an obligation to take care of rescue operations defined as:  “An operation to retrieve persons in distress, provide for their initial medical or other needs, and deliver them to a place of safety”.   She said this meant that Malta had to coordinate the disembarkation of the migrants.  

“The fundamental obligation to save life at sea is not limited to the ships or the masters or the seafarers but extends to states who are equally obliged to allow the disembarkation of such saved persons.  The obligation to save life at sea cannot be only of the ship, ship owners and seafarers,” she said.

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