“The current disregard for the legal responsibility to rescue those in distress at sea sets a dangerous precedent.” Interview with Leo, Search and Rescue team member

On July 22nd 2020, our Search and Rescue team learned that our ship, the Ocean Viking, had been detained by Italian authorities in Sicily following one of the most difficult missions ever carried out by the SOS MEDITERRANEE teams.

Today, they should be doing their job onboard the ship, at sea, trying to save lives. But they are prevented from doing so. In a few words, Leo, SOS MEDITERRANEE Search and Rescue team member,  tries to tell us how he feels.


1/ Can you introduce yourself briefly? What do you do when you are not doing sea rescue? What is your job when you are on board? 

I have been working at sea for a few years in different capacities, as a skipper of smaller vessels and as a part of the crew on larger ones. On Ocean Viking, I’ve worked in several roles on board, most commonly as a Rescue Craft Pilot. 


2/ The Ocean Viking has unfortunately been detained for more than 3 months. How has that been for you, how do you feel about the detention? 

The detention of the Ocean Viking and its consequences for those attempting to cross the Mediterranean is something I think about every day. It’s extremely difficult – especially having seen the situation first-hand – to know that we have the equipment, teams and capabilities to provide assistance but are blocked from doing so. People are dying needlessly as a result. It’s of paramount importance that both NGO and commercial ships are not hindered in their legal responsibility to rescue those in distress at sea, the current disregard for this responsibility sets a dangerous precedent. 


3/ What have you learned from your time on board? What do people in general and the public here in Germany talk about too little? 

My time on board has shown me the extent to which the EU and associated countries are willing to disregard the lives of non-Europeans. The lengths these bodies are willing to go to to prevent the rescue of those in distress is shocking and I can see that’s something that people in the UK are not very aware of. These are issues we are strongly associated with and have the power to influence, so absolutely, I would like to see more public awareness of the situation at home. 


4 What is your wish for the next months and for your work in Search and Rescue generally? 

In the immediate term, I hope to see the release of the numerous SAR NGO vessels that are currently under detention in order to ensure that there is, as soon as possible, an appropriate SAR presence in the Central Mediterranean. In a more general sense however, I do not believe that it should be NGOs providing the only structured assistance to those in distress in the Central Med. The work I am currently doing for SOS MEDITERRANEE shouldn’t exist and only does due to the shirking of responsibilities by national bodies and the European Union. Without a full-scale stateled response as seen in the days of Mare Nostrum the preventable loss of human lives will continue. 


Photo: Faras Ghani / Al Jazeera