A search and rescue ship operated by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and SOS Méditerranée responded to a boat in distress in the central Mediterranean today, rescuing 85 people, including 25 children under 18 years old. The ship, the Ocean Viking, has resumed patrolling for other boats in distress in the area.
Sam Turner, MSF head of mission for Libya and search and rescue activities, gave the following statement:
"Today's rescue shows that search and rescue vessels are needed now more than ever. The Ocean Viking had only been in the search and rescue area for approximately 10 hours when a distress alert came late last night, via the organization Alarm Phone, who were in direct contact with the Italian and Maltese rescue coordination centers.
"We had been searching all night before a military patrol aircraft eventually spotted the boat in distress early in the morning.
"We now have 85 vulnerable men, women, and children on board—the youngest just one year old. While we were able to get them all safely on board, had we not found them this morning, this could have easily turned into another tragic shipwreck.
"Despite consistently attempting to contact the Libyan Rescue Coordination Center since first receiving the distress alert, we did not receive a response until well after the rescue—offering us to go to Libya, contrary to international law.
"We will never return people to Libya. We know the horrors in Libya these people are fleeing. We know the situation is so desperate they feel the only choice for survival is taking to the sea.
"No one should be forced to choose between risking their life at sea or remaining trapped in a cycle of abuse in Libya.
"The circumstances in which this boat in distress was eventually found and the response of authorities in Libya, Italy, or elsewhere in Europe, show how confused the situation at sea is, and how states are not putting their duty to save lives first.
"As long as Europe fails to act with humane and sustainable solutions, people will be forced to undertake this deadly journey. We will not sit by and watch as people drown at sea."