24 Days After Migrant Rescue, Maersk Tanker Still Stuck Off Malta

maersk etienne tanker
Maersk Etienne responds to the distress call, August 4 (Sea-Watch)

Published Aug 28, 2020 5:38 PM by The Maritime Executive

24 days after she rescued two dozen migrants off the coast of Libya, the product tanker Maersk Etienne remains anchored off Malta, awaiting permission to complete the evolution and disembark the survivors. 

On August 4, Maersk Etienne responded to a call for assistance from a small boat about 70 nm north of Abu Kammash, Libya. Upon the instructions of Maltese rescue coordination officials, the vessel took the boat's 27 occupants aboard and got under way for Malta to complete the evolution. Though the vessel was asked to conduct the rescue by Malta, Malta has not yet given it permission to disembark the rescuees.

In a message published by the rescue NGO Alarm Phone, the brother of an Eritrean migrant aboard Maersk Etienne called for his release. "I don‘t get any information about how my brother is doing. I am denied a telephone conversation with him. And I fear that the 27 people might get deported to Tunisia," wrote the relative, identified as Said.

Banksy sponsors a rescue vessel

Despite COVID-19, NGO-operated rescue vessels have resumed operations in the waters off Libya, and a new addition to their ranks arrived this week courtesy of well-known British artist Banksy. The artist financed the purchase of a 100-foot rescue boat, registered as a pleasure craft and flagged in Germany. The newly-renamed Louis Michel is a former French Navy vessel capable of making 28 knots at top speed, according to her operators. 

Banksy contacted German rescue captain and activist Pia Klemp to head the operation. "I’ve made some work about the migrant crisis, obviously I can’t keep the money. Could you use it to buy a new boat or something? Please let me know," Banksy wrote her in a brief message shared with The Guardian. 

Image courtesy Louis Michel

Klemp, a self-described anti-fascist, told the paper that she selected a fast vessel in order to outpace the EU-funded Libyan Coast Guard. The agency typically arrests migrants and returns them to government detention centers, where they face a well-documented risk of abuse. 

On Friday, several days into her first mission in the Central Mediterranean, the Louis Michel was waiting off Libya with 219 rescued migrants aboard. In a Twitter post, her operator asked for immediate assistance from the Italian and Maltese coast guards, reporting that radio calls for help had gone unanswered.