Crew members of the Ocean Viking during a rescue on June 25, 2020 | Photo: SOS Mediterranee
Crew members of the Ocean Viking during a rescue on June 25, 2020 | Photo: SOS Mediterranee

The NGO ship Ocean Viking rescued 118 migrants in the Mediterranean in two separate operations on Thursday. Meanwhile, rescue ship Alan Kurdi has been released by Italian authorities but is not yet ready to set off on a new mission.

The first group of 51 migrants was rescued from a wooden boat in distress on Thursday, according to a tweet by SOS Mediterranee, the French charity that operates the ship. The migrants were mainly of Pakistani and Eritrean nationality and among them were one pregnant woman and five children. The engines of their boat had reportedly stopped working, 30 kilometers off the Italian island of Lampedusa. According to news agency AFP, most migrants on the boat did not have lifejackets.

That rescue operation reportedly took place at the crossroads between the Italian and Maltese search and rescue zones.

Later on Thursday, another 67 migrants -- mostly men and youths from Bangladesh and Morocco -- were picked up by the Ocean Viking about 100 kilometers off Lampedusa, according to AFP. SOS Mediterranee said that the boat had been spotted by the Moon Bird, a surveillance plane that is operated by another migrant rescue charity, Sea-Watch.

SOS Mediterranee said that COVID-19 protocols were being “carefully implemented“ and that the migrants’ health was being monitored. The migrants were given masks and their temperatures were checked, according to an AFP correspondent on the ship. One person, who was running a temperature, was reportedly quarantined as a precaution.

SOS Mediterranee said that it had asked both Malta and Italy for a port to disembark.

Mediterranean rescue operations

After three months in the harbor of Marseille, France, the Ocean Viking had set sail again on Monday. Like many other rescue ships run by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the Mediterranean, the Ocean Viking had suspended its activities after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. In recent weeks, NGO ships such as the Mare Ionio and the Sea-Watch 3 have set off on rescue missions in the Central Mediterranean again, as countries such as France and Italy have eased many of their coronavirus restrictions. 

Alan Kurdi released

Meanwhile, another rescue ship -- the Alan Kurdi, which is operated by German NGO Sea-Eye -- is currently headed from Italy to Spain. Italian authorities had impounded the ship in early May, citing technical deficiencies that could compromise the safety of crew and passengers. Sea-Eye, however, claims that the detainment of the ship was “unlawful.” In a press release, the organization cites Valentin Schatz -- one of its legal advisors -- as saying: "The technical requirements imposed on the ALAN KURDI by the Italian Ministry of Transport do not correspond to the class of ship legally determined by the German authorities and disregard the exemptions for sea rescue in the relevant international conventions."

It is unclear when the Alan Kurdi will be able to set off on its next rescue mission. According to Sea-Eye chairman Gorden Isler, maintenance on the ship will take place in Burriana, Spain, in July. In a statement published on Friday, Sea-Eye said that it would, in cooperation with the German authorities, “now determine the circumstances under which the vessel can sail on its next mission without being detained again by the Italian authorities.“

Deadly sea crossing

The Mediterranean crossing is one of the world’s most dangerous migrant routes. Each year, hundreds if not thousands of migrants lose their lives, trying to make it from Northern Africa to Southern Europe in small boats. More than 110,000 migrants tried to cross the Mediterranean last year and more than 1,200 died in the attempt, according to the UN migration agency IOM. At least 365 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean so far this year.

Many experts believe that the number of migrants who set off on the Mediterranean will increase over the next few months because summer weather usually leads to more favourable conditions at sea.

With AFP, dpa, epd, KNA


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