Reportage. 'It was a particularly difficult operation. The boat was overloaded and could have capsized at any time. It was dark.'

In its largest rescue, the Ocean Viking saved 369 lives

Photo by Flavio Gasperini / Sos Mediterranée

Sos Mediterranée’s Ocean Viking ship accomplished one of the largest rescues carried out in recent years by NGOs. In one fell swoop, on the night between Sunday and Monday, it saved 369 people traveling on a large wooden boat, of the kind that in the last two months have started once again to sail more frequently on the central route to Lampedusa. This time as well, as in many other cases, the city of departure was Zuara, 116 kilometers west of Tripoli. On board were migrants from many countries: first of all, Egypt, Bangladesh, Eritrea, Libya, Syria, Gambia and Sudan (North and South).

“It was a particularly difficult operation. The boat was overloaded and could have capsized at any time. It was dark. We stabilized the boat with some rafts, then distributed life jackets and finally got the people on board. Some were traveling inside a bottom compartment, and several were evacuated on stretchers because they were struggling to move due to dehydration or inhaled fumes,” said Francesco Creazzo, press officer of Sos Mediterranée Italy.

The boat had been spotted at around 6pm by the Colibri aircraft belonging to the Pilotes Volontaires NGO, which, together with the two Sea-Watch airplanes, patrols the central Mediterranean looking for boats in danger. At that moment, the Ocean Viking was about sixty miles away from the boat’s position. It took just over 4 hours to reach it. The rescue operation lasted a long time, until 3:30 a.m. On board the ship, the activities of distribution of water, food and clothes for the new arrivals went on until 7:30 a.m. on Monday morning.

The captain then headed north, requesting once again a safe harbor for landing (after it had already made a first request on July 2) to the Italian and Maltese authorities. The latter, as usual, refused and then failed to respond altogether. At the moment, there are 572 people on the humanitarian ship, rescued in six different operations between July 1 and Monday. This is the highest total number in the last two years for an NGO (on May 3, Sea-Watch 4 arrived in Trapani with 456 shipwrecked people). This record was favored by two circumstances: the arrival of summer, with the usual increase of departures, and the fact that the Ocean Viking was alone in the SAR area. Most of the other NGO ships are blocked in port by the administrative detentions ordered by the Italian Coast Guard.

Meanwhile, there was a new landing on Monday in Lampedusa: 24 Tunisians arrived on a boat. After the latest transfers to the quarantine ship Atlas and to Sicily with the ferry Sansovino, 331 migrants remained in the Contrada Imbriacola hotspot deep inside Lampedusa (with a capacity of 250). Meanwhile, some tens of kilometers to the south-west, in front of the Tunisian coast of Sfax, the bodies of 49 migrants of sub-Saharan origin were recovered. According to the spokesman of the Tunisian Coast Guard, Houssam Eddine Jebabli, the dead were from among the people shipwrecked there last week.

Also on Monday, the IOM communicated new data on the people intercepted by the self-styled Libyan “Coast Guard” and brought back: in the first six months of 2021, these have numbered 15,700 (compared to 11,891 in all of 2020).

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!