November 3, 2022, Marseille. Despite repeated requests for the designation a Place of Safety sent to the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCC) in Malta and Italy, the Ocean Viking remains at a dead end. Following the principles of the Law of the Sea, SOS MEDITERRANEE calls on the maritime authorities of France, Spain and Greece, who are the most able to assist, to facilitate the designation of a Place of Safety for the disembarkation of the 234 survivors stranded on board the Ocean Viking. A solution must be found without delay.
Between October 22 and October 29, several humanitarian ships, the Ocean Viking, HUMANITY 1, and Geo Barents, respectively rescued 234, 179 and 572 women, children and men from unseaworthy boats found in distress in the central Mediterranean. The rescues performed by these ships were conducted in the Libyan and Maltese Search and Rescue Regions. As per maritime conventions, the three vessels informed relevant maritime authorities at all steps of the search and rescue operations. Yet, the Libyan and the Maltese Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (RCCs) left the requests for coordination, information-sharing and designation of a Place of Safety unanswered, leading us with no other choice than to turn to other most able to assist RCC, namely the Italy one, as prescribed by maritime law.
However, on October 25, the newly appointed Italian government took a strong stand against the search and rescue NGOs. The new Italian Minister of the Interior reportedly emitted a directive warning the Police Forces and the Harbour Master’s Office that his ministry was assessing the conduct of our rescue ships in order to adopt a ban on entry into territorial waters. To this day, neither SOS MEDITERRANEE, SOS HUMANITY nor MSF ships, received any official communication on such a decision, but are nevertheless facing a complete blockage in high sea and an implicit ban from entering Italian Port.
The situation onboard the Ocean Viking is severely deteriorating. The weather forecast announces strong wind, high waves and a temperature drop by the end of the week and provisions are running low.
234 lives are at risk. Many survivors show signs of torture, sexual violence and abuses from their stay in Libya. These prolonged times at sea severely impact the physical and mental well-being of those onboard who narrowly escaped death at sea and jeopardize the safety of human life at sea.
SOS MEDITERRANEE urges the French, Spanish and Greek Maritime authorities and other able to assist MRCCs to assist and facilitate an immediate disembarkation in a Place of Safety. This blockade at sea is not only a disgrace but it also disregards essential provisions of International Maritime and Humanitarian Law. The survivors must touch land without further delay. We are facing an absolute emergency and any additional day of waiting could have life-threatening consequences.” says Nicola Stalla, SOS MEDITERRANEE Search and Rescue Coordinator onboard Ocean Viking
As the Italian and Maltese authorities turn a blind eye on the fate of these women, children, including babies and men, SOS MEDITERRANEE sent requests to next most able to assist Maritime authorities to urge for their support in mediating with their Italian and Maltese counterpart to cooperate, coordinate and facilitate the disembarkation of the women, children and men stranded at sea for up to 13 days on the Ocean Viking.
The designation of a Place of Safety with a minimum of deviation from the ship’s intended voyage is not only a moral but also a legal obligation; falling upon the State responsible of the search and rescue region where the rescue occurred but also on any other Government authority that may be able to assist when the responsible State is unresponsive.
The current blockade at sea of 985 persons is illegal and inhuman. SOS MEDITERRANEE urges once again the European members and associated states to comply with their obligations in enforcing a predictable system of disembarkation to ease the pressure on the European coastal States. Such system must ensure the possibility to disembark survivors in a Place of Safety where search and rescue operations are conducted, as required per maritime law.
Survivors retrieved from distress at sea must no longer be traded into political debates.
Credit: Camille Juan Martin/ SOS MEDITERRANEE