The Ocean Viking rescue ship is back in the central Mediterranean for the first time in six months. Salvini appears before court over blocking migrants at sea. Since the beginning of the year, at least 42 people went missing at sea and 18 deaths were recorded.

On 11 January, the rescue ship Ocean Viking, operated by SOS Mediterranee, left the port of Marseille and headed for the central Mediterranean for the first time in six months. The civil rescue ship had been released in December by Italian authorities after being held in Sicily for five months and subsequently underwent preparations for resuming rescue missions in France. During the ship’s last rescue mission in June 2020, it was left without instructions by Italian and Maltese contacted authorities for days and had to declare a state of emergency on board when the uncertainty and the lack of perspective pushed survivors to jump over board and to attempt suicide. Standing in solidarity with the Ocean Viking, the city of Munich, Germany, announced that it would double donations for the rescue ship with a maximum of ‎€ 100,000.

On 9 January, former Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini appeared before court in Palermo in connection with a 2019 incident during which he blocked the Open Arms rescue ship with about 100 rescued people on board from docking in an Italian port, forcing the ship to anchor off the island of Lampedusa while conditions on board deteriorated. The city of Palermo supports the trial against Salvini who is suspected of sequestration and abuse of power.

After search by sea and air, a boat with 50 people was located by the Tunisian navy on 11 January, 43 km off the Tunisian coast. By then, the boat had been at sea for five days. Several people had survived floating near the boat which had disintegrated over the course of the journey. A baby was found dead, presumable it had died of cold. On 10 January, Alarm Phone, which runs a hotline for boat people in distress, was alerted by relatives about 37 people who left Bouyafar, Morocco, for Motril, Spain. Their fate remains unknown as neither the Moroccan Navy, nor the Spanish coast guard have found them. On 9 January, 55 people, including children, have been brought back to land by Albanian authorities after being stranded for hours in rough waters in the Adriatic Sea as they attempted to reach Italy. Following the rescue, sixteen people had to be hospitalised. In an incident on 7 January, 31 people suffered shipwreck off the Moroccan coast of Nador. While about 20 people could be rescued, five bodies were retrieved and at least five more remain missing at sea.

The International Organisation for Migration’s (IOM) missing migrant project has recorded 38 deaths in the Mediterranean so far this year.

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