More than 200 migrants died attempting to cross the Mediterranean over the weekend, while four rescue ships remain docked in European ports, raising fears of more deaths in the coming months.
A total of 218 migrants are believed to have drowned in two separate shipwrecks on Friday and Sunday, according to International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo.
Among the dead were three babies, dressed in brightly colored clothing and looking almost as if they were sleeping. They were carried ashore to Libya on Friday.
It brings the total number of migrants dying while crossing the Mediterranean to 1,400 this year, according to Di Giacomo.
In the weekend’s shipwrecks, 32 migrants were rescued by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Tripoli.
But as the tragedies unfolded, four rescue ships run by various nongovernmental organizations remained docked at European ports, unable to sail the high seas because of legal restrictions.
Now the NGOs have warned that unless they are able to return to open waters soon, migrant death tolls will continue to rise.
It follows weeks of wrangling between European countries over whether to allow NGO rescue ships carrying hundreds of migrants to dock in their ports. As of Tuesday, the following rescue vessels remained docked:
Lifeline — Is detained in Malta “pending the necessary investigations according to national and international rules,” the Maltese government said in a statement Thursday.
The German NGO ship, which picked up 234 people and 17 crew members off the coast of Libya in late June, was forced to drift in the Mediterranean for days as European countries bickered over responsibility before it eventually docked in Malta.
Seefuchs — Is docked in Malta while authorities investigate the ship’s flag status. The ship is run by German NGO Sea-Eye. Sea-Watch 3 — Is detained in Malta “without any legal ground provided by authorities,” according to the German NGO. CNN reached out to Maltese authorities for comment but had not heard back at the time of publishing.
Aquarius — Is docked in Marseille following a regularly scheduled port call.
“Given the current politics at sea, and the criminalization of NGO search & rescue vessels, we force ourselves to also take some time to assess the situation,” it tweeted on Tuesday.
The vessel, run by aid group Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), made headlines last month after it rescued more than 600 migrants but was forced to drift in the Mediterranean for days after both Italy and Malta refused to allow it to dock. Spain eventually took it in.
A fifth rescue ship, the Open Arms, operated by the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, was on Tuesday traveling to Barcelona carrying 60 migrants rescued off the coast of Libya over the weekend.