Tuesday

29th Nov 2022

On board with SOS Méditerranée

Ocean Viking leaves French port of Marseille

  • The French coastline begins to recede as the Ocean Viking heads out into open seas (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

Excitement and dread.

The mix of emotions as the Ocean Viking leaves the French port of Marseille for open seas is difficult to gauge. But while most cheered as the boat headed out of port, the reality of what lay ahead remained very present.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • The sea presents its horizon (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

Beyond the horizon, thousands of people are fleeing a Libya that has left them exposed to horrors difficult to fully comprehend. Testimonies of people willing to die at sea, rather than return, are not uncommon.

The mission ahead will bear testimony to historical events that are shaping and shifting the very foundations of the European Union, as EU states abandon their legal obligations to save people at sea.

For seven days, the crew quarantined in a hotel in Marseille, then spent another five onboard the ship for preparation and intensive training.

On Saturday, they ran drills on hoisting the smallest of its three rescue boats, at 1.6 tonnes, onto the water. On Sunday, they covered basic medical training, including CPR and the proper use of stretchers.

A course has now been plotted for Bonifacio, a strait that separates Corsica and Sardinia.

There they will carry out additional drills on its two primary rescue speed boats, also known as rigid-hull inflatable boats (Rhib).

"You have to think about what you actually can achieve," said Charlie, a Swedish national who leads the search and rescue crew on one of the two Rhibs.

"What you can do, what you can have influence on, and what is out of your control," he said.

It is impossible to eliminate all dangers at once during a rescue.

But there are principles of approach that can help reduce the risks, which need to be choreographed, communicated, and carefully synchronised with the rest of the team.

Rescuing people at sea is not just a form of humanitarian assistance, it is a core legal obligation firmly rooted in international law.

But the real test for the Ocean Viking begins after Bonifacio.

SOS Mediterranee has saved close to 33,000 people since its launch in 2015. So the crew includes people with vast experience and training.

Among them is SOS Mediterranee's rescue coordinator Luisa Albera, as well as rescue boat leaders Charlie and Frenchman Jeremie.

"Day to day, we will see where we are," said Albera, during the morning brief on Sunday (27 June)

The bearing is clear.

Migrant and refugee boat departures are concentrated around northwestern Libyan coastal cities like Sabratha, Zawiya, and Al Khums.

The plan is to patrol the international waters north of Al Khums towards the Tunisian border.

Their hope is to rescue as many people as possible, while providing medical care and assistance onboard.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says the majority of those arriving at Libyan ports come from Sudan, Mali, and Bangladesh.

But their interception rates by the Libyan Coast Guard also vary, suggesting some networks are better protected than others.

"If you are Bangladeshi, you have a 19 percent chance to be caught by the Libyan coast guard," a diplomatic source told EUobserver.

"But if you are Sudanese you have more than 70 percent chance to be caught by the Libyan coast guard," noted that same source.

The Ocean Viking will likely be the only NGO ship in operation in the area.

Although the Spanish-based Open Arms was recently released after two months detention, it is unlikely to sail anytime soon.

And the Geo Barents, operated by Doctors without Borders (MSF), recently disembarked over 400 people in Sicily.

Author bio

Nikolaj Nielsen, an EUobserver journalist, is embedded on the Ocean Viking for the coming weeks, reporting exclusively from the boat on the Mediterranean migration route.

On board with SOS Méditerranée

Migrant rescue ship preparing for the worst

SOS Mediterranee's rescue coordinator Luisa Albera describes the events surrounding the tragic loss of 130 people in late April.

On board with SOS Méditerranée

EU talks migration over dinner, as NGO rescue-ship sets sail

Some 30 crew members boarded the Ocean Viking rescue ship in the port of Marseille on Wednesday, a full day ahead of an EU summit in Brussels where migration will be discussed over the afternoon and dinner.

Libyan detention centres must end, EU says

The EU has trained and equipped the Libyan Coast Guard. Those intercepted are then returned. Now Turkey has taken the lead, raising the stakes of possible leverage over the European Union as Ankara takes control of the route.

On board with SOS Méditerranée

Libyan police lieutenant: 'Coast guard are smugglers'

The Libyan coast guard actively works with smugglers and are run by a militia, an ex-Libyan lieutenant police officer. The EU is buying the guard three new P150 high speed patrol boats.

Sweden says 'no' to EU asylum relocation pledges

Sweden won't make any pledges to relocate asylum seekers under a French-inspired EU plan because there is no legal basis, says Sweden's ambassador to the EU. But Sweden's new right-wing government is also tightening migration rules.

Opinion

EU should help, not worsen, the refugee crisis in Libya

As MEPs debate the situation in Libya in the plenary for the first time in four years, the International Rescue Committee's Libya director says the EU must act now to prevent the country spiralling further into chaos.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. Legal scholars: Prosecuting Putin 'legally problematic'
  2. A missed opportunity in Kazakhstan
  3. EU's Hungary funds, China, energy, and Frontex This WEEK
  4. Sweden says 'no' to EU asylum relocation pledges
  5. The 'proof' problem with EU sanctions — and how to fix it
  6. The EU gas cap: will the bottle ever be 'uncorked'?
  7. Enough talk, only rights can eliminate patriarchal violence
  8. Swedish EU presidency: 'Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us