SOS Mediterranee’s Ocean Viking rescue ship now carries almost 300 survivors
ACTIVISTS saved the lives of another 64 people in the central Mediterranean today, a day after they prevented the EU-supported Libyan coastguards from intercepting over 70 refugees.
Today’s rescue was carried out in a joint operation by the Astral, Nadir and Imara monitoring ships inside Malta‘s search-and-rescue (SAR) zone — a section of the Mediterranean that the island nation is legally responsible for coordinating rescues within, but has widely refused to do so for non-Europeans since 2020.
Open Arms, the Spanish organisation that owns and operates the Astral, said its ship was able to locate the refugees’ wooden boat thanks to German NGO ResQship‘s Nadir and newcomers R42’s Imara.
The 64 were later transferred to the much larger rescue ship Ocean Viking, owned and operated by European charity SOS Mediterranee.
Yesterday afternoon, the Nadir’s crew discovered a rubber dinghy with 75 people on board. A Libyan coastguard ship circled around the dinghy as the Nadir’s crew carried out the rescue.
“About 40 people were already on board the Libyan Coastguard’s ship, and were prevented from continuing their journey,” ResQship said on Sunday.
“When one of these people jumped overboard, he was rescued by our Rhib crew.”
The survivors were given first aid and then escorted to the Ocean Viking, which had already rescued 158 people from two overcrowded rubber boats in Libya’s SAR zone last Thursday.
SOS Mediterranean said the survivors from that rescue had been at sea for nine hours, and that some of them were being treated for heat exhaustion and emotional distress by their Red Cross medical team.
The survivors later told the Ocean Viking’s crew that one of their number had gone missing a few hours prior to their rescue. Five people had fallen off the boat, but only four had managed to swim back to their unseaworthy vessel.
“Everything happened so quickly,” one of the survivors told SOS Mediterranee.
“Some people on the [dinghy] saw dolphins swimming next to the boat and turned around to look at them. Suddenly they fell overboard, one after the other. One of them was swallowed by the water.”
SOS Mediterranee said: “Another human life has been lost in the central Mediterranean, where the EU and its member states left a staggering void.
“This dramatic event adds to the countless others that claimed at least 19,402 lives since 2014.
“Search and rescue services at sea are not optional.”
One man was medically evacuated from the Ocean Viking by the Italian coastguards on Sunday. There are now 296 rescued refugees aboard the ship.
Elsewhere, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned of the psychological distress caused by Italy’s overly long disembarkation process.
In 72 hours starting May 9, MSF’s rescue ship Geo Barents saved the lives of 472 people from seven boats in Libya’s SAR zone. But it was only given permission to sail to Augusta on the Italian island of Sicily on May 18.
The next day, however, MSF said the disembarkation lasted more than six hours and that only half of the survivors had left the Geo Barents.
“We were asked by the Italian authorities to leave the port with absolutely no explanation,” the charity said.
“238 people, including some with broken limbs and a diabetic patient, are still on board.”
Disaster almost struck the following day.
“Six survivors jumped off Geo Barents this morning out of desperation after the 11 days of unjustifiable waiting since the first rescue,” MSF said.
“Yesterday [May 19], the Italian authorities halted the disembarkation halfway through without explanation.”
By Saturday morning, the survivors had all finally reached dry land.
Top image shows Ocean Viking rescuers heading towards an overcrowded wooden boat [Pic: SOS Mediterranee]