PARIS — Humanitarian groups operating the sole private rescue ship near the deadly central Mediterranean human trafficking route have asked French authorities to allow 58 refugees to disembark in the southern port of Marseille.
Medecins Sans Frontieres and SOS Mediterranee are also urging European countries to intervene in order to secure the vessel's future after Panama yanked the ship's registration.
France's government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux tweeted on Monday that the solution will come from "cooperation with our European partners."
"Humanity is to make the ship land in the closest and safest port," he wrote, reiterating France's position on the issue.
Panama's maritime authority said it has begun procedures to remove the registration of Aquarius 2 after Italy complained that the ship's captain failed to follow orders to return rescued migrants to Libya. The charities described Panama's move as shameful.
Francis Vallat, the head of SOS Mediterranee France, asked European countries on Monday to "find a solution, whichever it is. We can't stop, we don't want to stop. We will only yield to force and constraint."
"We never did anything which was not authorized by Italian authorities," Vallat said, adding that the Aquarius 2 rescued 58 refugees last week in two separate operations, including 17 women and 18 minors.
Vallat added that the refugees come from Libya, Pakistan, Ivory Coast, Syria, Sudan, Algeria and Palestinian territories.
According to Vallat, SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres' refusal to return migrants to Libya was in compliance with maritime law because Libya doesn't meet international standards for safe harbor. Malta and Italy refused to let the ship dock on their shores, and the charities made a formal request to France to welcome the ship in Marseille.
Last month, the ship spent days in Marseille after Gibraltar maritime authorities took Aquarius 2 off its registry. The boat resumed its operation after acquiring a Panama flag.
SOS Mediterranee said it has asked Panama to backtrack on its decision while urging the "international maritime community" to find another flag for the boat if needed.