Some of the migrants stranded for almost a month on board an oil tanker off the coast of Malta have threatened to throw themselves overboard, according to the vessel’s owner.

Maersk Tankers chief technical officer Tommy Thomassen told Times of Malta the situation on board the Etienne is becoming “increasingly difficult”.

The crew rescued a group of 27 migrants, including a pregnant woman and a minor, on August 5 but Malta’s refusal to allow them to disembark has led to the longest-running standoff with a commercial vessel in EU waters.

Thomasson said the captain of the ship has reported increasing frustration and tension among those on board.

“Some of our guests aboard the Etienne have threatened to throw themselves overboard out of despair. Our crew managed to talk them out of it, but the situation is becoming increasingly difficult,” he said.

Food and water rations are running low as the ship’s reserves are almost depleted, Thomassen said.

“Although the oil tanker is obviously not equipped to sustain that amount of people, we have managed to distribute rations and other basics to everyone,” Thomassen explained.

The company said that most rescue operations which they become involved in are usually resolved in a matter of days.

“The Etienne is built to accommodate a crew of 21 people, so it’s currently at double its capacity. Even with ample reserves, the ship’s stocks are going to run out,” Thomassen said.

If it were not for the captain’s good judgement, they would have drowned

He reiterated that the Danish tanker responded to a distress call in Malta’s Search and Rescue Zone and said Malta’s Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) had asked the crew to provide assistance. He said they were then left with no choice but to rescue them because of perilous sea conditions.

“We were called in to assist by the MRCC, and our captain immediately obliged. The distressed boat from which the migrants were rescued was sheltered by the Etienne for hours before the weather started becoming rough.

“When that happened and their vessel looked like it was about to sink, the captain made a judgement call to rescue the migrants. If it were not for his good judgement, they would have drowned,” Thomassen said.

Maersk added that they have no interest in pointing fingers at authorities, and only wish for a swift resolution.

“Private companies should not have to do a job that needs to be done by regional authorities. We fulfilled our duty to save lives out at sea, so we expect authorities to do the same,” Thomassen said emphatically.

He added: “It is clear that migration is a subject loaded with political tension, but this is not for us to decide.

“We are urging for a solution as soon as possible because we are victims of the circumstances. To us, it does not matter where the solution comes from, as long as it does.”

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