Berlin-based Sea-Watch said conditions on the boats had become dangerous, with migrants suffering from severe seasickness and post-traumatic stress disorder. The vessels were denied access to ports in Malta and Italy.
German migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 sent a desperate plea on Wednesday for a harbor to dock in. Conditions aboard the ship have worsened after 12 days at sea and bad weather conditions on the Mediterranean, Sea-Watch said in a statement posted on Twitter.
The Berlin-based NGO vessel rescued 32 migrants on December 22, including four women, three children and four unaccompanied minors, and has not been allowed to reach ports in Malta or Italy.
Their extended stay on Mediterranean waters is slowly depleting the ship's resources and endangering everyone on board, Sea-Watch said.
The crew has 'reached their limit'
Due to a storm, the ship's crew retreated into cramped lower-deck quarters with all 32 migrants for safety. Coupled with inadequate food nutrition and dwindling water supplies, the migrants and several crew members have succumbed to severe seasickness.
"For a malnourished, weakened person, the resulting dehydration may be life-threatening, especially when in conjuncture with hypothermia," the crew wrote. In particular, the three children on board, ages 1, 6 and 7 years old, were at the most risk, Sea-Watch said.
Some of the migrants have also suffered from post-traumatic stress as a result of being packed into a small space inside the ship. The resulting group dynamic of "many unbalanced people in close proximity to each other" has had an effect on their mental state, the crew wrote.
"We do not have the capacity or the resources to sustain this situation for much longer," Sea-Watch 3's medical team wrote in its "urgent request" letter, adding that the crew had reached their limit, having been on board the vessel for three weeks.
Malta offers 'shelter'
The Sea-Watch has not yet been granted access to a port, but the crew said Malta had permitted them to approach their coast to shelter from the storm. The Maltese government also allowed another distressed German NGO vessel, the Sea-Eye, access to its waters.
In a tweet, Maltese Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia provided a map of the area off the coast of Libya where both NGO boats had carried out their rescues. "Malta was neither the appropriate nor the competent search and rescue authority," he said.
The Netherlands said on Wednesday that it was prepared to take in some of the 32 migrants.
But the offer was only "on condition that other European countries do the same," security and justice ministry spokesman Lennart Wegewijs said. "Negotiations coordinated by the European Commission are underway between the different European countries," Wegewijs told AFP news agency.
The ordeal of Sea-Watch 3 comes just days after a charity rescue vessel carrying 311 mainly migrants off the coast of Libya had been allowed to dock in Spain.
According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 1,300 migrants have died trying to reach Italy or Malta via the central Mediterranean last year.
jcg/sms (dpa, AFP)