With 234 survivors rescued by the Ocean Viking stuck in limbo on their eleventh day on the deck waiting to disembark to a port of safety, SOS MEDITERRANEE and IFRC are calling for the respect of maritime law and ensure an immediate solution to be found for their disembarkation.
The Ocean Viking – a search and rescue ship chartered by SOS MEDITERRANEE and operated in partnership with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) – rescued 234 women, children and men from six boats in distress in the central Mediterranean between October 22 and 26.
“People rescued in the central Mediterranean by ships should and must be allowed to disembark in a Place of Safety within reasonable time as is the case for search and rescue operations conducted by authorities and merchant ships. The ever-worsening blockages faced by rescue ships in this stretch of the sea since 2018 are discriminatory and unacceptable. Keeping survivors onboard ships hostage of political debate longer would be the result of a dramatic failure of European members and associated states,” says Xavier Lauth, SOS MEDITERRANEE Director of operations.
“The people rescued are absolutely exhausted, dehydrated, with psychological distress, and some requiring immediate medical attention. We provided health care, food, water, hygiene items, psychological first aid and opportunity to call and connect with family members. But they cannot afford to wait any longer, this uncertainty is making the situation unbearable with stress growing day by day. They urgently need a port of safety,” says Frido Herinckx, operations manager with IFRC.
SOS says people’s right to promptly disembark in a Place of Safety suffers no debate:
The current blockage in the disembarkation of the search and rescue operations are grave and consequential breaches of maritime law. The international convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) frames Search and Rescue obligations to States and shipmasters in great detail, from the obligation to respond to and coordinate search for boats reported in distress, to the obligation to assign a “Place of Safety as soon as reasonably practicable”. All circumstances are considered, including the obligation for most able to assist States to cooperate in order to identify a place of safety for disembarkation; the obligation to provide assistance “regardless of the nationality or status of such persons” (Chapter V – Reg 33.1- amendment 2004), as well as the fact that “status assessment of rescued persons” should not “unduly delay disembarkation of survivors”. IMO RESOLUTION MSC.167(78) (adopted on 20 May 2004)
SOS adds that as per maritime conventions, the Ocean Viking informed relevant maritime authorities at all steps of the search and rescue operations and asked for the designation of a Place of Safety. “We must prioritize and cooperate in search and rescue operations for people on the move regardless of their status, including through clear, safe and predictable disembarkation mechanisms for rescued people”.