France allows Ocean Viking migrant rescue ship to dock after Italy refuses

© AFP - VINCENZO CIRCOSTA

France says it will allow the Ocean Viking, carrying 234 people rescued while crossing the Mediterranean, to dock on its southern coast, after a standoff with Italy over whose responsibility it was to take them in.

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said on Thursday that the Ocean Viking, whose passengers include 57 children, would be granted access to the military port of Toulon "on an exceptional basis".

Speaking after a cabinet meeting, he called Italy's refusal to allow the ship to enter its ports "incomprehensible".

The ship "is located without any doubt in Italy's search and rescue zone", he said, adding that "it was Italy's job to immediately designate a port to welcome this ship".

Long-term health risks

The rescue boat is expected to arrive in Toulon on Friday.

SOS Méditerranée, the NGO that operates the Ocean Viking, requested assistance from the French authorities on 8 November as sanitary conditions worsened onboard and Italy denied access to its ports.

Earlier on Thursday, France's maritime agency announced plans to send a helicopter to evacuate three migrants from the boat in need of urgent medical care, plus one caregiver.

"One of the patients is unstable and no longer reacting to treatment since 27 October," a spokeswoman for SOS Méditerranée told French news agency AFP.

"The two others were injured in Libya and because of this long wait for treatment, they risk having long-term health issues," she said.

After Darmanin's announcement, SOS Méditerranée said it felt "relief tainted with bitterness".

European standoff


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