The dispute over who should take in the migrants on the Maersk Etienne is the latest development in Europe's endless struggle to cope with the tens of thousands taking to the Mediterranean Sea in smugglers' boats each year to find a safer, better life.
More than a month ago, the Maersk Etienne rescued the migrants, including a pregnant woman and a child, from a flimsy fishing boat just before it sank in the central Mediterranean. Its owners, Maersk Tankers, now say food and fresh water are running low on the ship.
Despite weeks of talks between Maltese authorities and the company, the 186-meter-long (610-foot) vessel remains stuck in international waters 27 kilometers (17 miles) off Malta with no solution in sight.
Denmark “stands ready to assist the Tunisian government,” acting Danish immigration minister Kaare Dybvad Bek said Monday, adding that Denmark is talking with other EU nations about finding a way to safely disembark the 27 migrants.
Malta, which had asked the tanker to rescue the migrants on Aug. 4, often balks at taking in rescued migrants. A Tunisian foreign ministry spokesperson said the migrants were not Tunisia's responsibility, since they left from the Libyan city of Zuwara, capsized off Malta and were rescued by a Danish ship. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the press.
The official said the Maersk Etienne had entered into negotiations with Malta but not with Tunisia. The Maltese government has insisted it only asked the tanker to fulfill its maritime obligations to rescue the migrants, noting that the rescue occurred in Tunisia’s search-and-rescue area.
“The Danish-flagged vessel was never instructed to proceed to Malta by the Maltese authorities,” it said.
Thomas Adamson in Paris and Bouazza Ben Bouazza in Tunis contributed to this story