The NGOs Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee have announced their return to the Mediterranean on board a new vessel, Ocean-Viking, to rescue migrants off the coast of Libya.
Rabat – The NGOs Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee announced on July 21 that a new vessel, the Ocean-Viking would be used for their rescue operations in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Libya.
“We are returning to sea because people are drowning,” said MSF President Dr Joanne Liu in a press release.
“In 2019, one person dies for every 10 who arrive in Europe by sea,” she explained.
“We are determined to continue to provide humanitarian assistance with Ocean Viking and our partner, SOS Mediterranee,” she added.
The boat will patrol in the central Mediterranean, the source of the greatest number of distress calls, without entering the Libyan territorial waters, explained Frédéric Penard, director of operations of SOS Mediterranee.
MSF and SOS Mediterranee ceased their rescue operations in December 2018, after their vessel, the Aquarius, became the center of a legal and diplomatic crisis on the reception of migrants making their way to Europe from Libya.
The Aquarius had assisted over 30,000 migrants since 2016. It was the last rescue boat operating off the coast of Libya when the NGOs announced the end of its operations, for what they described as a “smear campaign” by European governments.
Legal and diplomatic battle
In November, the Italian government sought a seizure of the Aquarius over the alleged dumping of potentially toxic waste in its ports. MSF called the move “unfounded and sinister,” reported the Guardian. In June 2018, Italy refused its permission for the Aquarius to dock, leaving it stranded in the Mediterranean carrying 629 migrants.
In September, Panama removed its maritime flag from the vessel, due to “non-respect” of “international legal procedures” relating to migrant rescues in the Mediterranean, reported the AFP. For the NGOs the revocation was in fact due to political pressure from Italy. Unable to sail without a flag, the Aquarius was laid up in the Marseilles port.
MSF and SOS Mediterranee will now resume their operations on board the Ocean-Viking.
“In the past months, we have not only strengthened our operations on land and reinforced our observance of the Law of the Sea, but also sought a new ship,” announced SOS Mediterranee in a press release on June 21.
The 69m long cargo left port in Poland on July 18, and will take approximately two weeks to reach the Mediterranean, said Louise Guillaumat, the director of SOS Mediterranee. The vessel is Norwegian-owned, with a Norwegian flag.
It costs approximately $15,703 a day to run. SOS Mediterranee has launched a fundraising campaign to help meet the costs.