20th Jan 2022

Almost 800 people stranded at sea on Xmas Eve on rescue boats

  • MSF's Geo Barents during at rescue earlier this week (Photo: MSF)
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Almost 800 people on three NGO rescue vessels remain stranded at sea in the Mediterranean ahead of the Christmas holidays.

The charity ships are hoping to disembark those they rescued, including infants and newborns, but have yet to be assigned a port of safety from any EU state. Most disembarkations take place in Italy.

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Humanitarian rescue ship Geo Barents, run by Doctors Without Borders, has 458 people onboard. The German-based charity Sea-Eye-4 has 216, while SOS Mediterranee's the Ocean Viking is carrying 114.

The Ocean Viking said it has sent six requests for the place of safety so far, but without a response.

"Despite the utmost care provided by the Ocean Viking teams, signs of fatigue, exhaustion and anxiety are increasing among the survivors," it said on Thursday (23 December).

Among those onboard is a newborn that is only weeks old, rescued at the age of 11 days.

"He has spent almost half his life at sea," noted SOS Mediterranee.

Such stand offs with authorities are the norm, creating additional stress among those onboard given the uncertainty of their fates.

The NGO requests come after some 160 people reportedly died off the coast of Libya in their efforts to seek refuge and better lives in the EU.

"The new deaths have brought the tally in the central Mediterranean route to about 1,500 migrants drowned this year," said Safa Msehli of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), earlier this week.

Some 31,500 migrants were intercepted and returned to Libya in 2021, compared to nearly 11,900 migrants the previous year, according to the IOM.

The figures come on top of other recent reports of drowning deaths in Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece.

Greek authorities said they believe dozens are likely to have died after a boat carrying as many as 50 people sunk off the island of Folegandros.

The Greek Coast Guard, in a statement, said 12 people had been rescued.

Another 27 died in late November while trying to cross the English Channel from the French coast.

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