The European humanitarian vessel Ocean Viking, operated by the humanitarian group ‘SOS Mediterranean’, has departed the French city of Marseille.
It is due to begin operations off the coast of Libya by Thursday.
Ocean Viking has left on its first rescue mission in three months, operating at a reduced capacity.
It has a dedicated team watching for signs of COVID-19 as they rescue shipwrecked migrants.
The 22 staff on board include rescuers, crew members, and a medical team consisting of a doctor, two nurses, and a midwife – an unchanged configuration.
The medical team has been available on missions prior to the pandemic.
“They’ll check temperatures daily, they will wear masks, they will keep distance, and they will wash their hands regularly,” says François Thomas, president of the NGO.
“If there are suspected cases of COVID-19, we’ve taken steps to isolate the people and not to spread the virus on board” he added.
Nicholas Romaniuk, who coordinates the rescue operations, said “our role is to save lives in the middle of the Mediterranean, where there is a vacuum between Libya and Europe”.
Romaniuk pointed out that although the ship stopped saving migrants, the latter continued departing from Libya for several weeks as people crossed the Mediterranean.
SOS Mediterranean has established a strict protocol to tackle the epidemic among the rescued migrants.
Semi-surgical equipment has been put in place for the crew to sterilize the ship, in addition to isolation rooms.
The organization created a medical team after it failed to reach an agreement with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in April.
This was in anticipation of the presence of those infected with the virus among migrants on board.