Ocean Viking migrant rescue ship disembarks in Malta, demands long-term solution

PHOTO: Migrants celebrate aboard the Ocean Viking rescue ship, on August 23, 2019, as six EU countries agreed to take them in after 14 days at sea.PlayAnne Chaon/AFP/Getty Images
WATCH More than 10 migrants rescued after jumping overboard off the coast of Italy

A ship carrying more than 350 migrants was allowed to port and disembark at Malta Friday after a two-week international impasse, that latest in a series of standoffs this summer as European nations close up their borders.

The Ocean Viking, a Norwegian-flagged ship jointly operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), was granted port in Malta only after six other nations -- France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal and Romania -- agreed to take in the migrants.

Maltan Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Twitter the 356 migrants were allowed entry after discussions with the European Commission and member states, "namely" France and Germany.

PHOTO: MSF nurse Marion hugs a migrant as they celebrate aboard the Ocean Viking rescue ship on August 23, 2019, as six EU countries agreed to take them in after 14 days at sea. Anne Chaon/AFP/Getty Images
MSF nurse Marion hugs a migrant as they celebrate aboard the 'Ocean Viking' rescue ship on August 23, 2019, as six EU countries agreed to take them in after 14 days at sea.

The ship had been sailing between Malta and the Italian island of Linosa, south of Sicily, since Aug. 9, according to The Associated Press, as it awaited permission to dock, a situation SOS Mediterranee called "dreadful."

"Was it necessary to impose two weeks of excruciating wait for rescued people to be disembarked? These are people who have fled from desperate circumstances in their home countries and suffered horrific abuses in Libya," Jay Berger, the MSF project coordinator aboard the Ocean Viking said in a statement Friday.

This disembarkation comes in the same week as another migrant rescue ship, the Open Arms, managed by an NGO of the same name, was granted port in Italy after a 19-day standoff after five other European nations agreed to take in the migrants on board.

PHOTO:In this Aug. 13, 2019 photo made available Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, rescued migrants rest on the deck of the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking vessel. Hannah Wallace Bowman/MSF via AP
PHOTO:In this Aug. 13, 2019 photo made available Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, rescued migrants rest on the deck of the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking vessel.

The migrant crossing in the Central Mediterranean has become extremely tense -- and deadly -- since far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini took office last summer in Italy, instituting harsh anti-migration policies, including shutting ports down to private rescue ships. Earlier this summer, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called on Italy to change its policies to prevent further death and unrest in the sea, but Salvini has been unrelenting.

"Like promised, we did not give permission for the 356 immigrants on board the Ocean Viking to disembark," Salvini wrote in the caption of a Facebook livestream Friday. "The security of the Italians first!"

PHOTO: A handout photo dated 12 August 2019 and made available by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on 19 August 2019, showing migrants on a rubber dinghy waiting for their rescue by the rescue vessel Ocean Viking off the coast of Libya in the Mediterranean. Hannah Wallace Bowman/Handout/EPA-EFE/REX
A handout photo dated 12 August 2019 and made available by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on 19 August 2019, showing migrants on a rubber dinghy waiting for their rescue by the rescue vessel Ocean Viking off the coast of Libya in the Mediterranean.

In their Friday statement, MSF called on European nations to take four measures, including putting "in place a sustainable and predictable disembarkation system that safeguards survivorโ€™s rights" and stopping "punitive actions against NGOs trying to provide lifesaving assistance in lieu of a government-led response to this crisis."

Several rescue ships have been seized and crews face possible charges in Italy, including captain Pia Klemp of the "Iuventa 10," who face investigation, and captain Carola Rackete of Sea-Watch, who was arrested in Italy this June after docking in Lampedusa without authorization.

PHOTO: Rescued migrants sleep on the Ocean Viking, operated by SOS Mediterranee and MSF, as they cruise in the Mediterranean Sea, in the early hours of Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Avra Fialas/SOS Mediterranee via AP
Rescued migrants sleep on the Ocean Viking, operated by SOS Mediterranee and MSF, as they cruise in the Mediterranean Sea, in the early hours of Friday, Aug. 23, 2019.

MSF also called on European nations to "end their political and material support to the system of forced returns to Libya where refugees and migrants are placed in arbitrary and inhumane detention." Italy had made a deal in 2017 with Libya to stop migrants from attempting to cross the Mediterranean from the African nation.

In July, 44 people were killed by an airstrike on a detention center for migrants in Libya. The attack was blamed on forces associated with the Libyan National Army, according to The Associated Press.

PHOTO: A handout photo made available by the NGO organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) showing the Ocean Viking vessel at sea on 23 August 2019, after they received permission to land in Malta. MSF/HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/REX
A handout photo made available by the NGO organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) showing the Ocean Viking vessel at sea on 23 August 2019, after they received permission to land in Malta.

At least 576 people have died so far this year trying to cross the sea on the Central Mediterranean route to Italy, according to the International Organization for Migration's latest report through Aug. 4.

MSF said in a Tuesday tweet it believes "over 100 lives were lost" when a boat filled with migrants sank off the coast of Libya this week.

Libyan officials have not confirmed the number of deaths, according to Reuters.