An NGO vessel is calling on the Maltese and Italian authorities to evacuate 44 people rescued at sea after six asylum seekers reportedly attempted suicide in just 24 hours.

Two men jumped overboard the Ocean Viking on Thursday. Soon after they were recovered by members of the SOS Mediterranee team, while another three attempted to jump but were held back by other rescuees.

After a sixth man attempted suicide on Friday afternoon, the Ocean Viking sent a request to Italian and Maltese maritime authorities for “the immediate medical evacuation of 44 survivors who are in a state of acute mental distress, threatening to harm themselves and others around them and expressing suicidal ideas”.

In all, there are 180 people onboard, including 25 minors, 17 of whom are unaccompanied. One of the two women on board is five months pregnant.

They were all rescued in four operations conducted on June 25 and June 30. One of the rescues took place “in the overlapping Italian and Maltese search-and-rescue regions”, and the other three in Maltese waters, according to SOS Mediterranee. 

Over the past week, the vessel has called for a place of safe embarkation seven times. So far it received one negative answer from each of the Italian and Maltese authorities, it said.

State of emergency aboard the vessel

On Friday, it declared a “state of emergency” after the situation on board deteriorated to the point that the safety of the survivors and the crew could no longer be guaranteed.

“Many of the survivors are showing signs of extreme mental fatigue, depression and acute agitation that has erupted into several physical fights among the survivors on deck and threats of physical violence to survivors, the crew and the vessel. 

“Several survivors complain of decreased appetite, insomnia, and mental distress regarding what they have been through, mainly in Libya, and in the current situation, specifically not being able to contact their family for many days to inform them that they are alive.”

Two people are on hunger strike.

SOS Mediterranee said it believes that the decline of mental health of some of the survivors is "a direct result of the unnecessary extended stand-off at sea and lack of solution for their disembarkation”. 

A ship at sea is not a safe place for survivors who have just endured a near-death experience on an unseaworthy dinghy in distress, it said.

Last month, 425 migrants disembarked in Malta after being held offshore on four tourist boats amid fears of a takeover on one of them.

Some of the migrants had been held at sea for over a month. 


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