Two humanitarian NGOs have called on European governments to agree on a safe port where a vessel carrying 141 rescued migrants can dock.

Doctors without Borders (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee, two NGOs which jointly operate the sea rescue vessel Aquarius, said on Sunday that they were still waiting for a place to take the rescued people, who they said had been intentionally ignored by other vessels and even Libya’s own coast guard while out at sea.

The Aquarius rescued 25 migrants, including six woman, from a small wooden boat about 25 nautical miles off the Libyan coast on Friday. Later that day, a further 116 were rescued from another small boat in the area. More than half the people on the second boat were minors.

The captain of the Aquarius subsequently contacted authorities in Italy, Malta, Tunisia and Libya, MSF said in a statement. Libya’s Joint Rescue Coordination Centre took charge of the mission and told the Aquarius to find another country to dock in, the NGO said.

“European governments have put all their efforts into propping up the Libyan JRCC, however Friday’s events show that they do not have the capacity to fully coordinate a rescue,” said MSF project coordinator Aloys Vimard.

“A rescue is not complete until there is disembarkation in a place of safety. The Libyan JRCC clearly told us they would not provide this. Additionally they did not inform Aquarius of boats in distress which they were aware of, despite the fact that we were in the vicinity and offered our assistance.”

MSF said that rescued migrants also told aid workers that five different ships had failed to offer them assistance when they were out at sea.

“It seems the very principle of rendering assistance to persons in distress at sea is at stake,” MSF said.

The Aquarius was at the centre of a high-stakes migration policy dispute in June, when both Italy and Malta refused to let the vessel, which was carrying more than 600 rescued migrants, enter their respective ports.

The impasse was finally resolved when Spain announced that it would allow the vessel to dock at Valencia.

Many migrant sea rescue missions in the central Mediterranean have stalled following pressure from Italy and Malta. Italy’s right-wing government has said its ports are closed to migrant rescue ships, which it accuses of running a “taxi service” to Europe, while authorities in Malta have blocked sea rescue vessels in local ports, citing “registration concerns”.

Though departures from Libya have fallen dramatically this year, people smugglers are still pushing some boats out to sea and an estimated 720 people died in June and July when charity ships were mainly absent, Amnesty International estimates.

Photo: ReutersPhoto: Reuters