The Ocean Viking, a new rescue vessel run by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), is on its way to the search and rescue (SAR) zone off Libya. The announcement comes eight months after the two charities were forced to cease operations.
Eight months after SOS Mediterranee was forced to abandon efforts using its ship Aquarius, the charity on Sunday launched a new migrant rescue vessel together with Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
The Ocean Viking, sailing under a Norwegian flag, set off from the French port of Marseille, a spokeswoman for SOS Mediterranee confirmed. It is set to arrive off the coast of Libya by the end of the week, the spokesperson said.
With capacity for around 200 people, the Ocean Viking is currently the biggest rescue vessel in the Mediterranean. It also has four high-speed rescue boats as well as an onboard medical clinic.
The Ocean Viking was originally expected to start its search and rescue (SAR) mission in late July.
In December, charities MSF and SOS Mediterranee were forced to cease operations with their previous vessel, the Aquarius, after two years. This was due to pressure from Italy, where the right-wing government under Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has taken a hard line on migrants arriving by boat.
The news that SOS Mediterranee has launched a new mission comes amid private rescue organizations struggling for their presence in the Mediterranean: Boats, including the Sea-Watch 3, are still stuck in Italian ports, the organizations face higher monetary fines than before, and stand-offs with authorities have been putting a strain on crews. With every new migrant rescue drama, the situation has become more confusing.
It remains unclear, meanwhile, when exactly the new ship of Mission Lifeline will be ready. The German aid organization had announced in July it was preparing a new rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Central Mediterranean is among the most dangerous routes for people trying to flee Africa and the Middle East for Europe via sea: At least 426 people have died since the beginning of the year after setting off from Libya, according to SOS Mediterranee.
While the number of attempted crossings fell last year, the risk of death on the Central Mediterranean route increased: According to a report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 1 in 35 people perished in 2018, compared with 1 in 50 in 2017.
Rescued migrants land in Malta
The latest stand-off between with private sea rescue organizations and governments partially came to an end over the weekend. Last week, Italy’s Salvini had blocked two boats with 163 migrants on board - the Open Arms and the Alan Kurdi - from entering Italian waters.
On Sunday, however, the 40 migrants rescued by the Alan Kurdi were transferred to Malta. They will be divided among EU member states under a deal negotiated by Germany. Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European Union Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, thanked Malta on Twitter for allowing the 40 migrants to disembark.
The Open Arms, meanwhile, is still looking for a safe harbor for the more than 120 migrants it picked up from the Libyan coast in two separate rescue operations last week.
Countries including Italy and Malta have regularly refused private rescue boats safe harbor. Italy’s Salvini, for instance, has on numerous occasions threatened to keep migrants at sea indefinitely as a way of pressuring other European Union member states to accept burden-sharing deals.
With material from dpa