People rescued at sea by Ocean Viking to disembark in Italy six days after first rescue

A group of people in distress in a rubber boat before being rescued by the Ocean Viking earlier this year.
Mediterranean Sea 2019 © Hannah Wallace Bowman/MSF
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NEW YORK/AMSTERDAM, SEPTEMBER 14, 2019—All 82 survivors rescued over the last six days by the Ocean Viking, a rescue ship operated by the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and SOS MEDITERRANEE, have been assigned a place of safety and will be able to disembark in Lampedusa, Italy. However, this is yet another ad-hoc solution from a coalition of European states at a time when a sustainable and predictable disembarkation system is desperately needed.

The Italian authorities’ offer of a place of safety within six days of the first rescue at sea is a clear demonstration of humanitarian values and represents a positive step towards a more humane response to the suffering that continues on the Central Mediterranean, said MSF. 

“For people who have fled from desperate circumstances in their home countries and suffered horrific abuses in Libya, safety cannot come soon enough,” said Erkinalp Kesikli, MSF project coordinator on board the Ocean Viking. “Children on board tell our medical team that in Libya their skin was burned with melted plastic, they were beaten with sticks and bitten by dogs. We hear stories of sexual abuse against men, women, and children, and exploitation and arbitrary detention that has left many with deep psychological wounds. We are relieved that they will no longer be waiting in limbo at sea thanks to the solidarity demonstrated by European states.”

While the Ocean Viking was waiting to be assigned a place of safety, earlier this week a pregnant woman and her husband were evacuated by helicopter when her medical condition deteriorated. Rescued people must not be forced to endure long delays while European governments decide what to do with each rescue.  A predictable mechanism for the disembarkation of people rescued in the Central Mediterranean is urgently needed.

MSF is calling on European States to:

  • Put in place a sustainable and predictable disembarkation system that ensures survivors' well-being and safeguards their rights.
  • End their political and material support to the system of forced returns to Libya where refugees and migrants are placed in arbitrary and inhumane detention. People fleeing Libya simply cannot be returned there.
  • Respond to the urgent need for proactive and sufficient European search and rescue capacity. So far in 2019, one in 20 people fleeing Libya by sea are believed to have died attempting the crossing.

Information on recent rescues:

The Ocean Viking rescued 84 people in two distinct rescue operations.

Within less than nine hours of entering the Libyan Search and Rescue Region, the Ocean Viking commenced the first rescue on September 8.

The second rescue and transfer on September 9, was completed under rapidly deteriorating weather conditions after the situation for those on board the Josefa—a 14 meter [45 foot] sailboat—became an emergency. 

Despite consistently attempting to contact the Libyan JRCC before and after each rescue, we did not receive instructions until September 10, offering us to go to Zawiyah (Libya) for the disembarkation of survivors, contrary to international law.  The Ocean Viking requested an alternative to no avail.

On September 11, the Ocean Viking headed north for the medical evacuation to Malta of a nine-month pregnant woman and her husband.

Following the medical evacuation, 82 rescued people remained on board: 75 men and boys—20 of whom are unaccompanied minors (under 18 years-old with no parent or guardian accompanying them), six women and girls (including one pregnant woman), and a one-year-old infant.

After renewed requests to the Maltese and Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC), on Saturday, September 14 the Ocean Viking was informed via an email by the MRCC in Rome that Lampedusa was assigned as a place of safety.