The fate of more than 600 migrants stranded on a ship in the Mediterranean is still in doubt despite an offer from Spain to allow the ship to dock in the port of Valencia.
A member of the rescue team told HuffPost UK the Aquarius is rapidly running out of fresh water and supplies as it becomes caught up in an international debate over immigration.
Both Italy and Malta have repeatedly refused to let the boat dock, arguing they have already taken their share of refugees. The 629 migrants on board include 134 children and seven pregnant women, NGOs operating the boat said.
But despite an offer from the Spanish Prime Minister and the mayor of Valencia to dock, rescue workers have said they have received no official guidance on whether they will be allowed to proceed.
Spain’s new socialist Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, said it was Spain’s duty to “help avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a safe port to these people, to comply with our human rights obligations.”
But Mathilde Auvillan, the SOS Mediterranee press officer, told HuffPost UK: “We are still waiting for the instructions from the Rome MRCC, which coordinated the rescue and transfer operations.”
Permission and instruction from the MRCC coastguard is needed before the Aquarius can begin its journey from international waters to Spain.
In addition, Valencia is almost three days’ voyage for the Aquarius, raising the prospect of the ship running out of food and water. Italy and Malta are just hours away.
A cargo ship from Malta has provided some extra supplies, but it is not known if this will sustain the ship for another 72 hours.
Alessandro Porro, a member of the rescue team aboard the Aquarius, told HuffPost UK: “It was very dark [when we rescued them] and we could only hear their screams until a helicopter arrived and lit up the scene.”
Some people had to be resuscitated after they fell into the water after the boat carrying them broke apart. Many are suffering from fuel burns as a result, and most are dehydrated.
Porro said: “At the moment we are like an ambulance that has been stopped and we don’t know where to go.”
Problems for the Aquarius began when Italy’s Matteo Salvini, recently appointed as interior minister as part of a new right-wing government, closed the country’s ports to the boat, after promising voters he would crack down on immigration.
Writing on his Facebook page, Salvini said: “Malta takes in nobody. France pushes people back at the border, Spain defends its frontier with weapons. From today, Italy will also start to say no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration.”
He said Malta should accept the Aquarius instead, but the government in Valletta said the rescued migrants fall under Italy’s jurisdiction, as they were picked up the migrants in Libyan waters.