“The situation onboard Ocean Viking reached a critical limit. We are facing very severe consequences, including risks of loss of lives. Physical and psychological well-being of survivors and crew have been exhausted by over two weeks of blockage at sea. It is now a humanitarian emergency needing an immediate response.” alerts Xavier Lauth, SOS MEDITERRANEE Director of operations.
Today is the 18th day spent by some of the 234 people rescued by Ocean Viking from unseaworthy and overcrowded boats in the central Mediterranean. The past days and hours, our team observed a drastic deterioration of the physical and mental health of the women, children and men stranded on the deck of our vessel without solution in sight for their disembarkation.
“The medical team observes acute psychological stress among the survivors, with increasing signs of anxiety, depression, insomnia, and loss of appetite. After waiting so long for a positive answer to the multiple requests for a Place of Safety, survivors are losing the last bits of hope and incredible resilience they have shown so far. Some survivors have begun expressing intentions to jump overboard out of despair. Serious incidents can happen at any time, jeopardizing safety of the survivors and our teams onboard.” continues Xavier Lauth, SOS MEDITERRANEE Director of operations.
After daily and multiple requests for the designation of a Place of Safety to all most able to assist Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (RCC), it is inexplicable that no solution could be found by now. The Ocean Viking first contacted the Maritime RCCs responsible for the Search and Rescue Regions in which survivors were retrieved (Libya and Malta). Left in deafening silence, we then contacted as per maritime law, the most able to assist RCC in capacity to provide a Place of Safety, namely Italy. But the new elected government has imposed a discriminatory and implicit ban on entering territorial waters to all NGO operated search and rescue ships and, above all, has not assigned a Place of Safety despite our numerous official requests. It forced us to enlarge again our requests for assistance in finding a Place of Safety to the next most able to assist RCCs, in France, Spain and Greece. Yet again, for almost a week, no answers were provided to the Ocean Viking.
“In the past days, maritime and humanitarian laws were blatantly violated in Sicily, with the implementation of selective and discriminatory disembarkation processes of people rescued by the NGO vessels Humanity 1 and Geo Barents. These two ships have been denied safe and complete disembarkation for all survivors. Such a measure is not in line with the provisions outlined by the applicable international maritime and humanitarian conventions and resolutions regulating SAR operations” says Nicola Stalla, Search and Rescue coordinator onboard Ocean Viking.
All survivors retrieved from distress at sea are de facto vulnerable. Their rescue is not complete until they are disembarked in a Place of Safety, something that is denied by the inter-ministerial decree issued to those two vessels. Instructing rescue ships to leave Italian territorial waters with remaining survivors onboard, as communicated to HUMANITY 1, jeopardizes the safety of those remaining stranded onboard. Three survivors prevented from disembarking from the Geo Barents jumped overboard out of desperation yesterday (November 7)
Facing the silence of Italy and the exceptionality of the situation, the Ocean Viking has now escalated her request for a Place of Safety in France. We expect the Ocean Viking to arrive in international waters close to Corsica the 10th of November. This extreme solution is the result of a critical and dramatic failure of all European members and associated states to assist in finding a Place of Safety. We urge for an immediate solution to be found by the French MRCC for the survivors on Ocean Viking.
“Depriving survivors of a prompt assignment of a place of safety must cease. We are asking – once again – governments to work jointly as EU member states and associated states, together with the European Commission, to establish a predictable mechanism for disembarkation of survivors in Places of Safety, where their safety is no longer threatened and their basic human needs can be met.”, Xavier Lauth SOS MEDITERRANEE Director of Operations.
NOTE TO EDITORS:
- Between October 22 and October 26, the Ocean Viking rescued 234 women, children and men, including over 40 unaccompanied minors and four children under 4 years old, found in grave and imminent danger of being lost at sea on six unseaworthy boats, dangerously overcrowded. Three of the rescue operations were conducted in the Libyan Search and Rescue Region (SRR), the three others in the Maltese SRR.
- Ocean Viking informed relevant Rescue Coordination Centres (RCC), seeking information and coordination at all steps of each search and rescue operations, and requesting for a Place of Safety following the evacuation of each of the boats found in distress. Ocean Viking received no positive answers.
- Since October 27, Ocean Viking sent daily requests for assistance in finding a Place of Safety for the 234 survivors to the most able to assist RCC which is in Italy. To no avail.
- Since November 2, Ocean Viking sent daily requests for cooperation and coordination in the identification a Place of Safety for the 234 survivors to Maritime Rescue Coordination centres of France, Spain and Greece, which are the nearest RCCs most able to coordinate and support the failing previous RCCs contacted. To no avail.
- Today, on November 8, Ocean Viking sent a request for a Place of Safety to the French Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre.
- At least 1,337 people have gone missing on the Central Mediterranean migration route this year according to IOM’s Missing Migrants Project. Most of the 88,000 people who arrived by sea to Italy in 2022 have been rescued by the Italian Coast Guard and other Italian state-led rescue ships or arrived autonomously. Fifteen per cent have been rescued by NGO vessels.
Excerpts of International Maritime Conventions and Resolutions:
- Excerpts of the Obligation for the State responsible for the SAR area to promptly find a place of safety for disembarkation: SAR Convention chapter 3 § 3.1.9 : “The Party responsible for the search and rescue region in which such assistance is rendered shall exercise primary responsibility for ensuring such co-ordination and cooperation occurs, so that survivors assisted are disembarked from the assisting ship and delivered to a place of safety, taking into account the particular circumstances of the case and guidelines developed by the Organization. In these cases, the relevant Parties shall arrange for such disembarkation to be affected as soon as reasonably practicable.”
- Obligation of co-operation and assistance of all States by virtue of the principle of solidarity with the SAR State: SAR Convention chapter 3 § 3.1.9 : “Parties shall co-ordinate and co-operate to ensure that masters of ships providing assistance by embarking persons in distress at sea are released from their obligations with minimum further deviation from the ships’ intended voyage, provided that releasing the master of the ship from these obligations does not further endanger the safety of life at sea”.
- Obligation to rescue people in distress at sea, until their safe disembarkation, without discrimination: “Obligation to provide assistance applies regardless of the nationality or status of such persons or the circumstances in which they are found.” (SOLAS Convention Chapter V, Reg 33.1, 1974 (as amended in 2006)
- “6.20 Any operations and procedures such as screening and status assessment of rescued persons that go beyond rendering assistance to persons in distress should not be allowed to hinder the provision of such assistance or unduly delay disembarkation of survivors from the assisting ship(s).” IMO RESOLUTION MSC.167(78) (adopted on 20 May 2004)
Credit: Camille Juan Martin/ SOS MEDITERRANEE