SOS Méditerranée, the European maritime-humanitarian organisation currently operating north of Libya announced that the rescue ship Ocean Viking has left Marseille, and is heading for the central Mediterranean for the first time in six months.
“This first mission of the year comes after five months of costly efforts to release the ship from administrative detention imposed by the Italian authorities on 22 July, on the basis of new interpretations of ship safety requirements. In 2020, the lack of rescue capacity became ever more apparent. It was a devastating year in the central Mediterranean with more than 700 reported deaths, and a high probability that more deaths went undocumented,” SOS Méditerranée reported.
It stated, “SOS Méditerranée is relieved to resume life-saving operations this month, while reiterating the crucial need for a return to efficient and lawful state-led rescue coordination. While we are on our way back to the central Mediterranean for the first time in months, we all have in mind what a dreadful year 2020 has been for people caught in circles of abuse in Libya and those attempting to flee by sea.”
“With the COVID-19 pandemic came a renewed ‘closure’ of ports while people continued to risk their lives at sea to reach safety. Merchant ships carrying out their duty to rescue were stranded at sea for weeks, while responsible authorities refused to provide a solution to disembark rescued people,” it added.
The organisation explained that in June, Ocean Viking was left without instructions for days, and had to declare a state of emergency aboard the ship when “the uncertainty and the lack of perspective pushed survivors past their breaking point.”
“Repeated lengthy delays from maritime authorities in rescuing people in acute distress, as well as organised pushbacks of survivors to Libya occurred in breach of international law. Over 11,000 people were forcibly returned to Libya and its detention centers,” the website said.
Sophie Beau, the co-founder and vice-president claimed that, “six NGO ships have been blocked in a systematic manner leaving a deadly black hole in the central Mediterranean. At least 779 women, men, and children died or went missing – counting only the shipwrecks we know of – with barely any witnesses. This is disgraceful and needs to come to an end.”
“The Ocean Viking is setting sail with a team prepared for the worst, having to face life and death situations in the middle of the open sea. Unnecessary rescue delays and prolonged standoffs at sea put human lives at risk. A return to respect for maritime law and genuine European solidarity with coastal states is the only way to prevent more tragedies,” Beau added.