The Ocean Viking rescued 260 people off the Libyan coast. 48 people were pulled back to Libya and 43 travellers perished at sea.
In the early morning hours of 22 January, about 140 people from two rubber boats in distress were rescued off the Libyan coast by the civil search and rescue ship Ocean Viking. On 21 January, the ship had rescued about 120 survivors from a dangerously overcrowded rubber boat. According to SOS Mediterranee, the organisation operating the vessel, the survivors were “visibly shaken and exhausted” and four small children, the youngest only one month old, were among them. Now, a safe harbour for disembarkation is needed for the about 260 people on board the Ocean Viking.
On 20 January, Sea Watch’s monitoring aircraft Moonbird documented the interception of a dinghy with 48 people by the so-called Libyan coast guard. Water had entered the vehicle and after alerts by the travellers, the NGO hotline Alarm Phone contacted Maltese, Italian and Libyan authorities as well as the Ocean Viking and requested an immediate rescue. The Libyan coast guard returned the travellers, 11 children among them, to Libyan shores.
On 19 January, a shipwreck claimed 43 lives off the Libyan coast. The boat reportedly capsized when its engine stopped only hours after leaving the coastal city of Zawiya and amid bad sea conditions. Ten people survived and were returned to Libya by Libyan forces. One of those who died was eighteen-year old Souleymane from Guinea. Reportedly, it had been his fourth attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Libya where he had suffered torture and arbitrary detention. Following the shipwreck, the UN called on the international community to change its approach to the situation in the Mediterranean and stated: “This loss of life highlights once more the need for re-activation of State-led search and rescue operations, a gap NGO and commercial vessels are trying to fill despite their limited resources.”
The Ocean Viking is the only search and rescue vessel currently present in the Central Mediterranean, while six ships of the civil fleet remain blocked in European ports. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 1,366 people died during their attempts to cross the Mediterranean sea in 2020 while 11,891 travellers were returned to Libya. A recent report by the Italian interior ministry praises the crackdown on NGO rescue activities and the cooperation with Libya for having reduced arrivals to Italy.
On 14 January, port authorities in Salerno discovered 26 migrants, including six children, who had entered the country coming from Turkey by hiding inside two containers for more than three days.
For further information:
- ECRE, Med: Ocean Viking Resumes Rescue Mission Amid More Tragedies Unfolding at Sea, January 2021
- ECRE, Med: 265 Survivors Disembarked in Italy, Loss of Lives at Sea Continues, Ongoing Fight for Freeing the Civil Fleet, January 2021
- ECRE, Med: Constitutional Case Filed Over Pushback from Malta, Death-toll Climbing and Returns to Libya Continue, November 2020
- ECRE, Med: Loss of Lives Continues – Rescue Capacity Urgently Needed, October 2020
- ECRE, Italy: Foreigners Holding Resident Permit Transferred to Quarantine Ships, Reluctance to Rescue and Crackdown on NGOs Cost Lives at Sea, Commander of so-called Libyan Coastguard Arrested, October 2020
- ECRE, MED: Court Ends Blockade of Rescue Vessel, Italy Releases ‘Open Arms’, Italy’s Crackdown on People Saving Lives at Sea Condemned by UN, Unimaginable Horrors in Libya, October 2020
- ECRE, Med: Death Toll Rising, Search and Rescue Capacities Low and the Pact Misses Opportunity to Decriminalise Saving of Lives at Sea, October 2020
- ECRE, Med: More Tragedies Unfolding at Sea while Italy Confines Sea-Watch 4 and EU Member States Remain Unwilling to Coordinate Disembarkation, September 2020
- ECRE, Med: New Stand-off Developing as Survivors From the Etienne Have Finally Disembarked, September 2020
- ECRE, Med: the Moonbird Grounded Amid Crisis on the Med, Etienne Stand-off Continues, Horrifying Conditions in Maltese Detention Centres, September 2020
- ECRE, MED: 353 People Disembarked in Italy, 27 Remain Stranded off Malta, Increase of Arrivals in Lampedusa, September 2020
- ECRE, Med: Series of Deadly Shipwrecks While Civilian Search and Rescue Fleet is Blocked, August 2020
- ECRE, Med: 65 Lives at Risk, Inaction Continues, Evidence Culminates, NGOs Blocked, July 2020
- ECRE, Med: 118 Rescued, 211 into Quarantine while Italy Faces Legal Action for Pull-backs, June 2020
- ECRE, NGOs Resume Rescues amid Mounting Death Toll and Continued Pull-Backs, June 2020
- ECRE, Med: Malta Under-Fire for Continued Rights Violations but PM Dodges Homicide Charges, June 2020
This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.