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:

Photo: ECRE

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.