In less than 72 hours, the Ocean Viking carried out 5 nighttime rescues in difficult conditions between Friday morning and Monday morning. 407 survivors are now safe on board the Ocean Viking and waiting for a Place of Safety to be assigned. There are 255 adults and 152 minors on board, 132 of these minors are unaccompanied. Among the survivors are 12 pregnant women. The three main nationalities of the survivors are: Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea.
Here is a summary of a chaotic weekend for the rescuers of SOS MEDITERRANEE and their medical partner Médecins sans Frontières (MSF):
Statement by Frédéric Penard, Director of Operations, SOS MEDITERRANEE:
“The situation in the central Mediterranean this past weekend has shown again a dire need of Search and Rescue capacity and coordination to save lives. The Ocean Viking had to cover hundreds of miles to search for multiple boats in distress while crews were already taking care of hundreds of people on deck. All these rescues occurred at night, in very challenging conditions. While Europe was sleeping, the boats we found were overcrowded, near capsizing or breaking after having spent hours at sea with no assistance.
Without civil rescue ships, the area of the Mediterranean Sea would mostly be left unattended. On Sunday, the Libyan coastguards themselves admitted that they were not in a capacity to conduct operations that day.
There are currently 407 men, women and children, including 12 pregnant women, on board the Ocean Viking. They report having fled a deteriorating situation in Libya despite winter conditions. With bad weather ahead, they need a Place of Safety to disembark as soon as possible.”
22 January 2020: The Ocean Viking sets course from Pozzallo back to the central Mediterranean.
24 January 2020:
In the early morning, 92 people were found on a rubber boat, 30 nautical miles (NM) from the Libyan shore. All were safely brought on board the Ocean Viking. 32 were minors traveling alone. Ten of these unaccompanied children are under 15 years of age, while the youngest person was a baby just 6 months old. Four pregnant women were also among the survivors.
25 January 2020:
Throughout the day on Saturday 25th, 6 distress cases were reported in the central Mediterranean.
The Ocean Viking witnessed a rescue conducted by the Alan Kurdi in the presence of the Libyan coastguard on Saturday morning.
The Ocean Viking rescued 2 of the 6 reported distress cases: one in the early morning (59 people rescued from a wooden boat in distress, 26 NM from the coast of Libya) and one at night (72 people rescued from a wooden boat in the Maltese Search and Rescue Region (SRR)).
This nighttime rescue was particularly difficult for the teams. The Maltese Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) had instructed the Ocean Viking not to intervene and wait for their patrol boat to arrive on scene two hours later while a patrol aircraft had assessed the situation. While keeping the Maltese JRCC informed at all stages, the teams proceeded to an assessment of the boat in case of need for immediate assistance. The teams found the boat very unstable, heavily listing, overcrowded and near capsizing -the rescue had to be performed immediately.
JRCC Malta informed the Ocean Viking that a transfer onto a Maltese patrol boat would be organized at a later stage.
26 and 27 January 2020:
On Sunday 26th, while the Ocean Viking was awaiting instructions for a transfer in the Maltese SRR, a NAVTEX dispatch was sent to all ships in the area informing of 3 distress cases in the central Mediterranean by the JRCC Malta on behalf of the Libyan JRCC. Despite having 223 survivors already on board, the Ocean Viking responded to this request for immediate intervention with an email to competent maritime authorities offering her availability to conduct a search. The Libyan JRCC answered that they had no capacity to conduct interceptions that afternoon.
The Ocean Viking went back to the Libyan Search and Rescue Region, conducting a search for 10 hours, before finding one of the boats in distress, at nighttime, with updated positions provided by Malta JRCC. 102 people were brought to safety from a rubber boat in distress, 80 NM from the Libyan shore, while another boat in distress was being rescued by the Armed Forces of Malta. Many of the people suffered from severe fuel burns and amongst the survivors, 8 were small children under the age of 5.
Just after completing the rescue, the Ocean Viking headed to another one of the 3 distress cases, in the middle of the night, found the rubber boat in distress in the Maltese SRR and brought 82 people to safety at around 2am on Monday 27th.
On Monday 27th in the morning, the Ocean Viking repeated her request for assistance in the designation of a Place of Safety to competent maritime authorities.
MSF also requested a medical evacuation and a patient suffering severe fuel burns has been evacuated from the Ocean Viking. The woman was transported to Malta via helicopter, along with her 3 children. Rescued last night, the MSF team stabilised her condition, but she was at risk of developing complications.
28. January 2020: In an announcement delivered in 6 languages, the 403 survivors onboard the Ocean Viking get to know that Taranto (Italy) was assigned as a place of saftey
29. January 2020: 403 children, women and men disembark in Taranto
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Photo credits (cover photo): Hannah Wallace Bowman / MSF