Rescue: Just before dawn on 17 January, the Ocean Viking was alerted of a boat in distress. While notifying all competent maritime authorities, the ship reached the wooden boat at 35 nautical miles off the coast of Libya. The boat was highly unstable and the rescue performed was a difficult operation with high waves and strong winds in complete darkness. The rescue was completed at around 04:30 am and all 39 rescued people, including 5 women and many unaccompanied minors, were brought safely onboard the Ocean Viking.
Luisa Albera, SOS MEDITERRANEE Search and Rescue Coordinator onboard the Ocean Viking:
“We were first alerted to a wooden boat in distress by the NGO Alarm Phone at 2.14 this morning. They were about 10 Nautical Miles from the Ocean Viking’s position at the time and the people on board reported that their engines had stopped, and the boat was taking water. About half an hour later we finally spotted a small light on the horizon and soon proceeded to rescue. Keeping the competent maritime authorities informed at all stages of the operation, as we always do, we received no reply and no coordination. We once again operated, quite literally, in complete darkness.
The rescue itself was challenging. In two and a half metres of swell and with strong winds, the crew onboard our fast-rescue boats (RHIBs) had to hold on to the hull of the flimsy and heavily rolling wooden boat to distribute lifejackets and allow the 39 people on board to step onto the RHIBs to be evacuated to the Ocean Viking. The people we rescued were very exhausted, many of them had been seasick on the wooden dinghy. Almost half of them are minors travelling alone. At 4.35, everyone was safely on board the Ocean Viking.
After the rescue, we asked the competent maritime authorities in Libya to assign a Place of Safety for us to disembark the people we rescued. We got a reply instructing us to disembark the survivors in Tripoli, Libya – a place of escalating conflict in a war-torn country, the very country that these people have risked their lives to flee from. As stated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Libya is not safe for refugees and migrants, especially during war. Bringing them back there would be a breach of international law. The rescued people need to disembark in a Place of Safety that meets the criteria of maritime law as soon as possible.”
Photo credits: Hannah Wallace Bowman / MSF