As the migrant crisis aboard the 36,900-dwt Maersk Etienne (built 2014) enters into its second month, things are getting desperate.
Supplies on board the product tanker are dwindling and some of the 27 people rescued from the Mediterranean Sea in August are considering jumping overboard as a means to end their month-long detention.
"One of the migrants, in a dialogue with the captain, expressed so much frustration [and] said maybe he should just throw himself overboard," Maersk Tankers chief technical officer Tommy Thomassen told TradeWinds.
Another, he said, wrote a letter to the captain on the back of a paper plate expressing appreciation of the Maersk Tankers crew, but said "they would go back into the sea again" rather than continue being a burden.
"It just puts a lot of stress on the crew and the captain, obviously. For all the people, it's an unsustainable situation," said Thomassen, who noted the situation had not yet become a security issue for the ship.
"It's unfair, if you ask me."
On 5 August, the tanker responded to a call from Maltese authorities asking the crew to rescue a sinking boat that had left Libya two days prior.
The migrants, including a pregnant woman and a child, were taken aboard shortly before the boat sank. They were taken to Malta, but the island country has refused to allow them to disembark.
The Maersk Etienne remains at anchor roughly 33km east of the capital, Valletta, with plus 21 crew aboard.
The country's inaction has earned the condemnation of trade group Danish Shipping, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization of Migration and a handful of Ministers of the European Parliament (MEP).
This week, the situation stretched to 28 days, which Maersk Tankers said was a record for migrants held aboard a commercial ship.
In a letter sent to Malta Prime Minister Robert Abela and home affairs minister Byron Camilleri last week, the 29 MEPs said "the freedom and dignity" of the migrants was at stake.
"This is the longest stand-off in front of the European coast that we have witnessed so far and we are extremely worried about the current state on board and the condition of the rescuees," the letter read.
"A merchant vessel is neither properly equipped, nor is the crew adequately prepared. The people are deprived from their fundamental rights for three weeks now."
Politics of deterrence
The Maltese government has not responded to requests for comment.
In a 2 September story in the Times of Malta, a home affairs spokesperson said that the tanker was not told to bring the migrants to Malta and that the migrants were not rescued in the country's search and rescue zone.
In another Times story, the government said it was seeking a "European solution" and cited a government source that said "the migrants are not coming here".
Britta Rabe of migrant rescue organisation Alarm Phone disputed the notion Malta does not have to allow the migrants to disembark, arguing that if Malta made the call, it was responsible.
"There's no solution. They don't offer any solution. This can only be explained as deterrence policy," she said.
Rabe said Denmark held some responsibility, too, being the flag state of the Maersk Etienne.
"Malta has been doing these anti-migrant politics since years," Rabe said. "They could have prepared for this much better, to take more people" and it is up to the whole of the European Union to deal with the issue, she added.
Thomassen and Maersk Tankers would take any safe, fair solution.
He said the company has spoken with Maltese and Danish officials, the MEPs and the Tunisian government — though Rabe said that country lacks a system to accommodate asylum seekers.
"We've never, ever been exposed to such a long situation with migrants on board a commercial ship," Thomassen said. "I think it's a world record. Not a world record we're interested in keeping.
"Our people, our captain, they're actually heroes. They rescued 27 people that would have otherwise drowned," he added.
"We're just asking for help to resolve this situation."