Maersk Etienne Standoff Ends, But Not for the Migrants

maersk etienne
Awaiting transfer onto Mare Jonio (courtesy Maersk Tankers)

Published Sep 11, 2020 7:07 PM by The Maritime Executive

After 38 days, the 27 rescued migrants aboard the tanker Maersk Etienne have disembarked - but not onto a pier. 

On Friday the rescuees boarded the NGO-operated rescue tug Mare Jonio, which has a medical team aboard and is better-prepared to handle healthcare needs. However, just as it did to Maersk Etienne when she was carrying the migrants, the government of Malta has refused entry to Mare Jonio, and the 27 survivors remain stranded at sea. 

In a statement, Maersk Tankers said that it had become increasingly concerned for the migrants' physical and mental health after five weeks on board. The assessment of the situation worsened when three of the migrants jumped overboard, requiring another rescue operation. The group has also threatened a hunger strike. 

Maersk Tankers asked for assistance in dealing with the humanitarian situation on board, and it made arrangements with NGO Mediterranea Saving Humans for a health assessment for the migrants, taking advantage of the medical team onboard the Mare Jonio. The team assessed that the rescuees' condition called for immediate care, and Mare Jonio took all 27 aboard.

As Malta normally denies port access for NGO rescue vessels, the case has now transitioned into a more routine migration standoff, without a substantial change in status for the rescuees. "Malta authorities, informed of our intervention, declare themselves 'not responsible' and refuse to assign a safe port . . . Once more, Malta violates international laws and the human rights," said Mediterranea in a statement.

Without migrants aboard, Maersk Etienne can now enter seaports without customs issues, and her AIS signal shows that she has weighed anchor and departed for Gibraltar. Maersk Tankers said that her crew will be debriefed and provided with care when they arrive. 

“We are relieved and grateful. The rescued persons can now finally get the medical care they need and our crew can continue their voyage safely. While we are appreciative of the support from Mediterranea in helping us to bring a closure to this unprecedented situation, we are at the same time deeply concerned that it has not been possible to find a solution before now. It has been very difficult for the rescued persons and our crew,” said Tommy Thomassen, chief technical officer for Maersk Tankers.

Mare Jonio has also departed Maltese waters and has relocated to a position off Pozzallo, Sicily.