The group had been at sea for two days and were low on food and water when they were found by the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)/SOS Mediterranee ship Aquarius, but rejected offers to board the ship on the grounds that they didn’t know where and when it would disembark, according to reports from La Repubblica.
“Thank you, but we're going to Lampedusa,” they reportedly told the humanitarian workers aboard the ship.
MSF staff provided the group with additional food, water, and life jackets, and after confirming that there were no medical emergencies, left them to continue on with their journey.
The Aquarius was already in its second day at sea and carrying 141 rescued migrants, the majority of them Somalian and Eritrean, when it was directed towards the boat by the Libyan Joint Rescue Coordination Center.
The rescue ship is now looking for somewhere to dock within the EU, but has so far been turned down by Spain and Malta.
Chiediamo ai governi europei di assegnare alla nave #Aquarius un luogo sicuro di sbarco dopo i salvataggi nel #Mediterraneo. Le condizioni di salute delle persone soccorse sono stabili, ma molti sono estremamente deboli e denutriti. https://t.co/g7ECp4wZRt pic.twitter.com/Glm7CkMgby
— MediciSenzaFrontiere (@MSF_ITALIA) August 12, 2018
Italy has not responded to the ship’s latest request, but Italy’s far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini previously issued a blanket statement that he would not allow any more humanitarian rescue ships to dock in the country's ports.
The Aquarius's MSF coordinator, Aloys Vimard, said the rescued migrants currently on board the ship told staff that they had been passed by five other vessels, none of which had offered any help, before they were picked up by the rescue boat.
“It seems the very principle of rendering assistance to persons in distress at sea is now at stake. Ships might be unwilling to respond to those in distress due to the high risk of being stranded and denied a place of safety,” Vimard said in an official MSF statement.
In June the Aquarius spent nine days at sea with 630 rescued migrants on board after both Italy and Malta refused it entry, before it was finally allowed to dock in Valencia.