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Rescuers relieved after France provides port, but angered by ‘dire ordeal’ they have been put through

Three-week journey almost over for the 230 remaining survivors aboard the Ocean Viking

IT WAS with a mixture of relief and anger that rescuers welcomed the news today that they had finally been given permission to disembark over 200 refugees in a safe port.

The Ocean Viking rescue ship is heading to Toulon, southern France, where it has finally been granted permission to take the 230 people her crew saved in the central Mediterranean between October 22 and 26.

Three people in urgent need of hospital care were medically evacuated from the ship via helicopter this morning.

“We are extremely relieved that a safe port in France has been assigned to our ship, which puts an end to a critical situation,” said Xavier Lauth, the ship’s director of operations.

“But this solution has a bitter taste: the 230 women, children, and men on board the Ocean Viking have been through a dire ordeal and are exhausted, as are our teams.

“Disembarking almost three weeks after their rescue, so far from the area of operation in the central Mediterranean, is the result of a dramatic failure from all the European states, which have violated maritime law in an unprecedented manner.

“Civil rescue ships, operated by NGOs such as SOS Mediterranee, are only filling the gap of the serious and deadly disengagement of European states in the central Mediterranean.

“As the European Commission reaffirmed yesterday (9 November): ‘The legal obligation to rescue and to ensure the safety of life at sea is clear and unequivocal, irrespective of the circumstances that lead people to be in a situation of distress. […] The sanctity of life being of utmost importance and primary consideration’.”

SOS Mediterranee, the charity that operated the Ocean Viking along with the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC), said the ship should reach Toulon by Friday.

The organisation also condemned the Italian far-right government’s treatment of the 751 people it kept on the Geo Barents and Humanity 1 rescue ship for days in port.

“The political instrumentalisation of the duty to provide assistance at sea, which we have witnessed in the recent weeks, is unacceptable: it is a cynical renunciation of a moral, legal, and universal imperative,” SOS Mediterranee said.

“We urgently call on the European Union member and associated states, together with the European Commission, to finally establish a predictable mechanism for the disembarkation of survivors in a place of safety, where their safety is no longer threatened and where their basic human needs can be met.”

Fellow rescuers Sea-Watch, whose new ship the Sea-Watch 5 is currently being refitted, also took aim at Giorgia Meloni’s government’s antics.

“Blockades, closed ports and the criminalisation of civilian sea rescue do not prevent fleeing across the Mediterranean.

“Italy’s political actions ensure that every day those people on the run drown, die of thirst or freeze to death. We demand open and safe refugee routes for all.”

Meanwhile, yesterday the crew of the human rights monitoring ship, Nadir, saved over 200 lives.

“Nadir crew assisted the rescues of five boats in distress with a total of over 200 people today,” ResQship said on Wednesday evening.

“One boat capsized during a rescue operation of the Italian coastguard, but all 37 people could be rescued from the water in close cooperation with the Nadir crew.

“One young boy is still in critical condition and needs treatment.

“Since we are currently the only civil fleet NGO asset in the central Mediterranean, we will keep looking for distress cases to assist.”


Top image shows one of the survivors aboard the Ocean Viking rescue ship [Pic: Camille Martin Juan / SOS Mediterranee]

Published by Ben Cowles

Is a journalist and podcaster

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