Refugees stranded on board a rescue ship in the Mediterranean Sea have been scheduled to be transferred to a quarantine vessel, after the ship declared an unprecedented state of emergency.
The Ocean Viking, which is holding some 180 refugees off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, declared an emergency on board after several fights broke out mainly between ethnic groups and six suicide attempts were made.
SOS Mediterranee, which operates the Ocean Viking, said in a statement that the refugees aboard the vessel were not only fighting themselves but also threatening crew members.
The charity organization said it had previously been denied requests for permission to enter a safe harbor in Italy or Malta seven times.
However, a source from the Italian Interior Ministry said on Saturday that a medical team had been dispatched by authorities to check the refugees’ conditions.
According to the source, the refugees were tested for COVID-19 on Sunday morning and are scheduled to be transferred to another ship in the Sicilian port of Porto Empedocle, where they will be placed in quarantine.
The medical team “established the absence of any particular health problems and also reported that the tensions registered on the ship are being reduced,” according to the source.
The transfer was scheduled for Monday.
The asylum seekers on board the Ocean Viking private vessel include refugees from Pakistan, North Africa, Eritrea, and Nigeria.
There are also 25 minors among the group of refugees aboard the ship.
More than 100,000 refugees tried to cross the Mediterranean last year, with more than 1,200 dying while making the attempt, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The refugees often flee conflict zones in the Middle East and Africa.
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