Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the country would disembark the migrants stranded for two weeks aboard a humanitarian ship in the Mediterranean Sea after six European countries agreed to accept all of them.
Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Friday that six EU countries had agreed to take in 356 migrants stranded on a rescue ship in the Mediterranean as charities warned food supplies onboard were running out.
The Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking, run by charities MSF and SOS Mediterranee, has sought a port for almost two weeks after rescuing four boats of migrants off the Libyan coast between August 9 and 12.
Maltese navy boats will transfer the migrants from outside its territorial waters to land.
Following discussions with @EU_Commission and a number of Member States, namely #France and #Germany, #Malta has agreed to be part of the solution in the #OceanViking stalemate, which has 356 person on board, without prejudice to its legal position. 1/2— Joseph Muscat (@JosephMuscat_JM) August 23, 2019
They will then be relocated to other member states, Muscat tweeted, listing destination countries like France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal and Romania.
"None will remain in Malta," he wrote, saying a deal was agreed after talks with the European Commission.
"Malta has agreed to be part of the solution in the Ocean Viking stalemate, which has 356 persons on board, without prejudice to its legal position," he said.
"Good news!" rescue operator Nicholas Romaniuk told AFP on board the boat, while saying they did not know when the migrants would be transferred.
🔴 "They are petrified they will be taken back to Libya where they have been exposed to horrendous abuses and arbitrary detention. Some are survivors of shipwrecks or bombings. They all deserve safety."— MSF Sea (@MSF_Sea) August 22, 2019
Luca Pigozzi, MSF doctor on board #OceanViking#MSF #BackAtSea pic.twitter.com/OBpXd9qB1E
Food running out
The French government said it would take in 150 of those aboard.
"After 14 days of unnecessary suffering, all 356 people on board #OceanViking will finally disembark," MSF Sea tweeted.
"While some EU States finally stepped up with a humane response to this humanitarian disaster in the Med, a predictable disembarkation mechanism is needed now!" it said.
The charity had on Friday warned that the boat was running low on supplies.
"We are left with four days of standard food rations," said an MSF spokeswoman on board, including Friday.
"After that, it would be ad hoc, we wouldn't be able to administer everybody with the same rations.
We will have to use leftover stocks from the previous mission."
The 69-metre boat had been denied entry to dock by both Malta and Italy and was left drifting in international waters between Malta and Sicily.
It was the latest in a string of migrant boat standoffs.
Most of the 356 migrants on the Ocean Viking are adult men.
About two-thirds come from Sudan, with others from Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal.
Four women and five young children, aged one to six, are also aboard.
Almost a hundred are under the age of 18.
Many were rescued from Libyan waters suffering from severe dehydration and sometimes borderline malnutrition, the boat's medical team has said.
They tell stories of fleeing conflict-torn Libya to escape ill-treatment, arbitrary detention and sometimes torture.
MSF tries to ensure those rescued eat at least one hot dish a day, as well as providing cereal bars, protein biscuits and tea.
With limited water, those aboard are restricted to three-minute showers twice per week.