On July 11, 2023, following a Port State Control (PSC) inspection lasting 7 hours conducted by the Italian Coastguard in the port of Civitavecchia, Italy, Ocean Viking, a ship chartered by SOS MEDITERRANEE since 2019 and operated in partnership with the IFRC, was placed under detention by Italian authorities, for an indefinite period as discussions are ongoing with the relevant stakeholders.
The inspection identified a very few technical and administrative deficiencies.
Unfortunately, one of the deficiencies requires a more in-depth investigation, involving the cooperation of various certification actors and the shipowner. It involves a restrictive interpretation of the SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea – 1974) convention, an international agreement establishing minimum safety standards for the construction, equipment, and operation of ships. This restrictive interpretation done by the Italian authorities concerned elements that have never been flagged during the 7 PSCs undergone by the Ocean Viking in the past four years. This interpretation of SOLAS requirement is thus surprising as it is not in line with standard interpretation and application of the concerned regulation.
SOS MEDITERRANEE is actively working with all concerned stakeholders on solutions to return to sea as soon as possible, as this year has already proven tragically deadly in the Mediterranean.
The detention of Ocean Viking comes five days after a security incident faced by her crew. On Friday 7 July, gunshots were fired less than 100 meters from the humanitarian rescue crew and the shipwrecked persons by the Libyan coastguard after a rescue – including a woman and five unaccompanied children – as they were trying to get back to the Ocean Viking.
Not only are civilian ships filling the deadly gap left by European States in the central Mediterranean and saving lives, whilst being endangered themselves by EU-sponsored Libyan coastguard firing nearby during rescue, they are then being sent to distant ports for disembarking survivors, before additionally being detained by authorities.
The early part of the year has been particularly devastating with over 1,890 deaths in the Mediterranean; this already grim reality is further exacerbated by the current detention of the Ocean Viking, which has temporarily suspended the vital rescue operations of SOS MEDITERRANEE and the IFRC. “The situation in the Mediterranean is gravely concerning. Humanitarian workers are under attack, and mortality rates are alarmingly high. We urgently need a continual presence of rescue vessels to aid the growing number of boats in distress. The current detention is significantly undermining our ability to save lives in international waters” says Sophie Beau, co-founder and General Director of SOS MEDITERRANEE in France.
SOS MEDITERRANEE condemns any attempt to endanger the lives of its crew and survivors. Humanitarian workers, civilians and shipwrecked people cannot be, in any cases, a target, and hopes that Ocean Viking will be able to resume her lifesaving operations as soon as possible.
Credit: Claire Juchat / SOS MEDITERRANEE