On Monday, January 25, 373 migrants on board the Ocean Viking were disembarked in the port of Augusta in Sicily. The migrants had been rescued from three different small boats in the space of 48 hours.
373 migrants, rescued by the humanitarian vessel Ocean Viking, disembarked in the Sicilian port of Augusta on Monday, January 25. The ship is operated by the pan-European humanitarian rescue organization SOS Mediterranee.
On January 24, the ship "received instructions from the Italian maritime authorities to disembark the 373 survivors in Augusta," stated a press release from SOS Mediterranee. The press statement went on to say that conditions in the Mediterranean had been "deteriorating significantly" over the weekend "making the situation onboard very difficult to sustain for survivors and the crew."
Women, children and babies among survivors
According to the press release, there were 165 minors on board the ship, about 80% of those are unaccompanied. 21 of the children are newborns or small children, under four years old. 48 of those rescued are women, four of whom are pregnant, and 32 of whom are traveling alone.
One of the pregnant women, "Nadine", was in her eighth month of pregnancy and at risk, so the crew of the Ocean Viking asked the Italian coastguard to evacuate her on Saturday, which they did. She was taken for treatment on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, according to the Italian regional newspaper La Sicilia.
'We are relieved'
"We are relieved for the 373 people on board our ship," tweeted the coordinator of the rescue mission on board Ocean Viking, Luisa Albera.
Meanwhile, the organization called for a "return to an effective coordination of state-led search and rescue in the central Mediterranean."
The Ocean Viking rescued a total of 374 migrants in the space of 48 hours in the latter half of last week. It was the only private rescue ship operating in the Central Mediterranean area at the time, confirmed numerous press reports as well as SOS Mediterranee.
Albera said that the organization had "feared another lengthy standoff with no solution in sight." She said that there had been "weeks of bad weather," in the area but as soon as conditions improved, "numerous departures of people," set off last week in "overcrowded boats."
'Horrifying accounts of inhumane treatment'
Albera said there had been "reports of shipwrecks and interceptions by the Libyan coastguard," before the Ocean Viking crew began their rescues. SOS Mediterranee said they had "horrifying accounts of the inhumane treatment [the survivors] endured in Libya."
One of the survivors, a young man from Mali calling himself Kylian*, told the Ocean Viking crew he believed he would die in Libya. Kylian, has "a serious gunshot wound on his upper arm," said Albera, posting a picture of the man's bandaged arm to Twitter.
Kylian said that after being shot, the perpetrators "thought I was dead," and "just left me there." Kylian said that this kind of thing "happens all the time in Libya."
Kylian told the doctors, he and many others were "all crammed in a house together," in Libya. He says they weren't free to leave. Kylian said he was "outside when the bandits came." He says he wanted to run in to warn the others, when they shot him and he "fell to the ground."
Kylian said he was treated four hours later when a friend took him to a Cameroonian woman who was a doctor and she took him in.
SOS Mediterranee said that all the people they rescued last week were within the Libyan search and rescue region. Three of the boats were "reported to maritime authorities and the Ocean Viking by the civil network Alarm Phone." They were also picked out by the spotter planes Moonbird, operating for Sea-Watch and Colibri II operated by Pilotes Volontaires (Volunteer pilots). One of the small boats was spotted with binoculars from the bridge of Ocean Viking itself.
SOS Mediterranee say that they made "two requests for a Place of Safety to disembark" to the Libyan maritime authorities, before then asking for support to the Italian and Maltese Rescue Coordination Centers "twice." The Italians then assigned them Augusta as the port for disembarkation on Sunday.
Criticism from League
La Sicilia reported that the anti-migrant League party (La Lega) spoke out against the disembarkation. One of the party’s leaders in the regional parliament in Palermo, Igor Gelarda, was quoted as saying, "whilst Sicily is in lockdown with an economy that is on the brink of collapse, the national government is allowing a migrant ship to dock on the island."
According to La Sicilia, the party member, said he felt the national government was not looking after Sicilian people’s health or their finances. He called upon Italy's government to offer "serious economic and financial support immediately" for Sicilians, saying that it seemed like the Italian island was no longer meant for Sicilians who were being "forced to emigrate" in the search for better economic opportunities elsewhere, while more and more migrants were allowed to land on the island.
Gelarda said that the national government’s "absurd choices" could "kill off the fragile Sicilian economy forever."
Death or return to Libya
Meanwhile, on Monday the organization Alarm Phone tweeted that one rubber dinghy carrying 45 migrants had arrived "autonomously in Lampedusa after a difficult journey."
The organization said the dinghy had left Libya "two days ago."
On Monday morning, Alarm Phone also said that relatives had confirmed that 17 people are thought to have died at sea before making it to Sicily. 82 people on board the same craft had been taken back to Libya by that country’s coastguard.
*Kylian’s name has been changed to protect his identity