Twenty-seven migrants who were stranded on board an oil tanker on Hurd's Bank for 38 days are finally set to disembark in Sicily, rescue NGOs announced on Saturday evening.

The migrants had been stranded on board the Danish-flagged tanker Maersk Etienne since their rescue on August 4 after Malta refused responsibility for their disembarkation, insisting the rescue had taken place outside the country's search-and-rescue zone. 

On Friday, they were transferred to the rescue vessel Mare Jonio, operated by the NGO Mediterranea, for medical treatment, having been found in "serious psycho-physical conditions that make it impossible for them to stay on the petrol tanker," according to the NGO. 

Mediterranea said on Saturday that permission had been granted by the Italian coastguard and Interior Ministry for the migrants to disembark in Pozzallo for health-related reasons. 

"After 40 days, the nightmare is finally over for the castaways of the Maersk Etienne," the NGO tweeted. 

Humanitarian NGOs had long called for an end to the standoff, which the ship's operators said was the longest for a commercial vessel stranded after rescuing migrants, as conditions on board rapidly deteriorated. 

Three migrants jumped overboard last Sunday before being rescued by crew members. 

Malta and Denmark had insisted that Tunisia bore responsibility for the rescued migrants.

The standoff caps a long summer of similar incidents since Malta closed its ports in March on the basis of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In May and June, hundreds of migrants were housed on tourist vessels outside Maltese waters for around a month at a cost to the taxpayer of €3,000 a day. 

Recently, the government announced it planned on deploying floating offshore centres as a solution to quarantining migrants, who tested positive for the virus.

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