First humanitarian search and rescue ship authorized to proceed to an Italian Place of Safety in 14 months.
Paris, Marseille, September 14, 2019 – On Saturday, September 14, the Ocean Viking was informed by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) Rome that a place of safety had been assigned to disembark the 82 survivors that were rescued in the Central Mediterranean in two operations. They will be safely disembarked in Lampedusa and resettled into several states of the European Union.
SOS MEDITERRANEE, which chartered the Ocean Viking in partnership with Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), expresses its relief that a place of safety has been assigned by Italian authorities six days after the first rescue occured. Once again, a coalition of European countries managed to provide an ad-hoc solution for disembarkation of the rescued people. “Having been designated a Place of Safety that qualifies as such is a good news”, reacts Nicola Stalla, Search and Rescue Coordinator onboard the Ocean Viking. “But having to wait several days to several weeks is not tolerable. We urge for European States to establish an effective, coordinated and predictable mechanism guaranteeing safe ports of disembarkation for people rescued at sea”, he adds.
This assignment of a Place of Safety is in line with the requirements of international law, which stipulates that those rescued from distress at sea must promptly be disembarked in a place where their security will be guaranteed and their basic needs can be met. “For people who have fled from desperate circumstances in their home countries and suffered horrific abuses in Libya, safety cannot come soon enough”, says Erkinalp Kesikli, MSF project coordinator on board the Ocean Viking. SOS MEDITERRANEE strongly believes that humanitarian values must be upheld by EU member states and that a humanitarian response to the humanitarian crisis in the Central Mediterranean must be found.
While in June of 2018, the Aquarius – chartered by SOS MEDITERRANEE and operated in partnership with MSF – was the first humanitarian ship to undergo the closing of Italian ports, today’s instruction is an encouraging signal that several European states, including Italy, have agreed to work together. SOS MEDITERRANEE recalls that assistance to people in danger must be placed above all other political considerations, today and always.
There is currently a significant lack of search and rescue capacity in the Central Mediterranean, which has contributed to the highest rate of death ever recorded. So far in 2019, one in 20 people departing Libya by sea are believed to have died in their attempt to cross the Mediterranean sea. “After disembarkation, the Ocean Viking should head back to her search and rescue mission in the Central Mediterranean, because people continue to die in these waters where no rescue ship is currently present in the area”, adds Nicolas Stalla.
SOS MEDITERRANEE once again urges the European states to:
- Respond to the urgent need for search and rescue capacities in the Central Mediterranean;
- Establish a coordinated, shared and sustainable disembarkation mechanism that guarantees the preservation of human lives;
- Cease the criminalisation of NGOs operating in the Mediterranean.
The Ocean Viking rescued 84 people in two operations in international waters off the Libyan coasts. Within 14 hours of entering the Libyan Search and Rescue Region, the Ocean Viking was informed of the first rubber boat in distress carrying 50 people on September 8. The second rescue and transshipment on September 9 was performed in rapidly deteriorating weather conditions after the situation for those onboard the Josefa – a 14-metre sailboat – became an emergency.
Despite constantly attempting to contact the Libyan JRCC at all steps, the Ocean Viking did not receive instructions until September 10, when the JRCC assigned Zawiyah (Libya) for the disembarkation of survivors, which SOS MEDITERRANEE had to decline as Libya is not a Place of Safety. Ocean Viking requested an alternative to no avail.
On September 11, the Ocean Viking headed north for the medical evacuation of a nine month pregnant woman and her husband to Malta. Following this evacuation, 82 people remained on board, the youngest of them less than one year old (58 men, 6 women, 18 minors including a one-year-old baby).
International press contact:
Sophie Rahal (Paris, France)
© Photo credit: Laurence Bondard/SOS MEDITERRANEE