“Do we have to wait for someone to die before being allowed to disembark?” 

SOS MEDITERRANEE urges European States to mobilise for immediate disembarkation 


“The European Search and Rescue organisation SOS MEDITERRANEE was created five years ago. Since then, our rescue teams have performed 271 operations and assisted 31 799 people in the Central Mediterranean.

We have been through terrible crises, dramatic rescues, long stand-offs at sea, but throughout our short history, our crews have always acted with the utmost professionalism and the strictest respect for legal obligations and procedures enshrined in maritime law and conventions. This has been repeatedly recognized by all State stakeholders with whom we have always aimed to maintain a constructive dialogue”, says Nicholas Romaniuk, SOS MEDITERRANEE’s Search and Rescue Coordinator onboard the Ocean Viking.

“With 180 survivors onboard, who were left without any indication of being able to disembark in a safe place for more than a week, the Ocean Viking declared a State of Emergency 24 hours ago. This step was taken because a large group of heavily traumatised survivors is in such psychological distress that they have become a danger to themselves and to others. We have never had to resort to such an extreme measure of last resort in all our history. Declaring such an emergency on a vessel is a very serious step and an ultima ratio to request urgent assistance”, continues Frédéric Penard, SOS MEDITERRANEE’s Director of Operations.

“To date, more than 24 hours later, the only assistance proposed has been a visit by a medical doctor and a cultural mediator who spoke to the survivors but are not in a position to present a solution for their disembarkation. Furthermore, a COVID-19 test is being planned by Italian authorities.  It remains the duty of the relevant authorities to facilitate a disembarkation in a Place of Safety.

Is anyone in Europe hearing our call and taking it seriously? Human lives are at risk and we demand immediate action from all those supposedly good-willed States from whom we only hear words and see little action today. Do we have to wait for someone to die before being allowed to disembark?”, adds Frédéric Penard.


Note to the editors: 

The Ocean Viking, a rescue ship chartered by SOS MEDITERRANEE, has rescued 181 people in four rescue operations – two on June 25 and two on June 30 – in the Maltese and Italian Search and Rescue Regions. The Ocean Viking has sent seven requests for a Place of Safety to the Italian and Maltese maritime authorities for the disembarkation of all survivors. Maritime authorities have the legal responsibility to facilitate a swift disembarkation to a safe port in accordance with maritime law. The Ocean Viking was left with two negative replies from authorities.

The mental health of many of the survivors on board the Ocean Viking has declined rapidly since they were rescued. Being in limbo at sea for such an extended period of time, while strict measures to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 apply, has added to their suffering. Several survivors, among them people who suffered traumatic experiences in Libya, threatened to harm themselves and others. The medical team on board the Ocean Viking requested a medical evacuation for this group at noon on Friday. This request has been left unanswered. More than 24 hours later, our call for help has not been heard and we are still left in limbo with 180 people in severe mental distress onboard. The only response we received from European States so far has been from Italian maritime authorities, who have sent a medical team, composed of a doctor and a cultural mediator, onboard on Saturday afternoon. Survivors’ hopes of soon seeing an end to their ordeal is likely to have been reinforced by this visit. If a solution is not found immediately, we are afraid they might lose faith and attempt to inflict harm on themselves again at any moment.


Photos and videos of the current mission of the Ocean Viking are available for download here.


For further information, please contact:

International: Laura Garel  / l.garel@sosmediterranee.org
France: Morgane Lescot / m.lescot@sosmediterranee.org
Germany: Petra Krischok / presse@sosmediterranee.org
Italy: Francesco Creazzo / f.creazzo@sosmediterranee.org
Switzerland: Elliot Guy (French) / e.guy@sosmediterranee.org
Eva Ostendarp (German) / e.ostendarp@sosmediterranee.org