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40-day nightmare over for 27 stranded refugees on commercial ship

Mare Jonio transfers the castaways and brings them to Italy

THE nightmare journey for 27 refugees blockaded from Europe for 40 days and left in limbo on a merchant vessel finally came to an end this weekend.

Twenty-six men and a pregnant woman fled Libya in a wooden boat on August 3.

Their boat was spotted by Moonbird, a reconnaissance plane operated by German rescue charity Sea Watch, inside Malta’s search-and-rescue zone the next day.

Rather than launch a rescue mission, the Maltese authorities ordered the Maersk Etienne to change course and assist the wooden boat and on August 5, the chemical tanker brought the castaways on board after their boat began to sink and then headed to Malta.

But despite co-ordinating the rescue, Malta refused to allow the Etienne to disembark the refugees in any of its ports, forcing the ship to wait indefinitely in international waters.

Then, as the Star was going to press on Friday night, Italian rescue group Mediterranea: Saving Humans announced it had received an urgent request for assistance from the Etienne and had transferred the 27 onto its ship the Mare Jonio.

“Europe shamelessly looked away for 38 days in disregard for international law and human rights,” Mediterranea said in a social-media post on Saturday.

“Thirty-eight days in which the castaways slept on the ground, without being able to change their clothes, without medical assistance, putting their physical and mental health as well as their lives at risk.

“They wanted nothing more than to die. Three of them got into the water, more than one attempted suicide. They are all in devastating psychophysical conditions.

Early on Saturday the Italian coastguard evacuated the pregnant woman and her husband from the Mare Jonio.

Later that evening the Italian authorities finally allowed the refugees ashore on the island of Sicily.

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