The Ocean Viking is a search and rescue vessel chartered since April 2019 by the NGO SOS Méditerranée. It replaced the now famous Aquarius which the NGO had to part with due to numerous political and administrative blockages after having sailed the Mediterranean on board for 3 years.
I had the opportunity to cover the eleventh rotation of the Ocean Viking in the Central Mediterranean. It took place during several weeks in March 2021. It resulted in the rescue of 116 people, men, women and children fleeing Libya, who were able to be disembarked in the port of Augusta in Sicily.
According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 20,000 people have lost their lives in the Mediterranean since 2014, making this the deadliest migration route in the world.
The situation has changed significantly in the Central Mediterranean over the past decade. In 2013, the military-humanitarian operation Mare Nostrum, carried by Italy, was launched with significant resources. It was deployed following a shipwreck that cost the lives of nearly 400 people off Lampedusa. Mare Nostrum will help about 100,000 people in less than a year. But it is coming to an end as quickly as it was deployed, leaving room for operations with far fewer resources.
In 2017, NGOs had provided 41% of rescues at sea far ahead of the Italian coast guard and Frontex operations. Since 2018, the search and rescue coordination mission previously provided by Italy has been entrusted to Libya, a country ravaged by war.
“Overall, the Libyan authorities do not relay distress calls. And when we inform them of a distress situation, they either don’t answer us, or they don’t speak English even though it is an obligation,” denounces Laurence, spokesperson for SOS Méditerranée.
It seems that Libya, the departure point for many boats, is less interested in coordinating with NGOs to save lives than in boarding boats that try to leave its area. This means a return to horror.
More than 60,000 men, women and children have been intercepted at sea and sent back to Libya since 2016. Those who are placed in detention centers are “held in inhumane, even deadly conditions,” denounces Amnesty
In total, more than 32,000 people have been rescued by SOS Méditerranée since its creation in 2015.
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