Wednesday

4th Aug 2021

On board with SOS Méditerranée

Food rations run out on Friday onboard Ocean Viking

  • People are stacked on the deck with very little to manoeuvre (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

Tensions are beginning to mount on the deck of the Ocean Viking search-and-rescue vessel.

With 572 people squeezed on board and food rations set to run out on Friday (9 July), the crew is doing everything possible to maintain a sense of calm.

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  • "Everyone was panicking, kids started to cry. I put my hands in my head, I thought it was over," says this minor from Guinea Conakry (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

"Friday is the last food distribution," SOS Mediterranee's rescue coordinator Luisa Albera, said on Wednesday (7 July).

Ropes have been secured overhead to help keep balance when walking in between the bodies. Each foot has to be carefully placed so as not to step on someone.

It means no lines can be formed to help ease food distribution. It also means toilets and showers are difficult to maintain.

Fights have already broken out, with at least one drawing blood. Others are trying to keep up morale with song and dance.

But the fissures, provoked by fatigue and not knowing where they are going or when they arrive, are widening.

Crew member Albera had already asked for a place of safety on Monday, in the hopes of being able to disembark everyone.

She sent another three requests including one on Wednesday at 11.26am to Italy with Malta in copy. Libya was also placed in copy as a formality.

The ship's course is constantly changing in order to minimise direct sunlight given that many are forced to sleep exposed. Some have already been treated for heat exhaustion, others for panic attacks.

The final rescue, during the early hours of Sunday to Monday, meant 369 had boarded. There was no other option.

And the ensuing three metre swells the following evening made most everyone sea sick and miserable, including a two-month pregnant woman.

Preliminary weather forecasts for Friday are also not good, with possible 25 to 30 knot winds likely.

"The weather forecast is the least of our problems," noted Albera, when pressed.

Two years ten months in a detention centre

On deck, a 27-year old man from Eritrea is in a constant daze.

The toes on his feet point in odd directions, suggesting they have been broken and never properly set. EUobserver understands he had spent two years and ten months in a detention centre, making him a shadow of his former self.

Those around him try to comfort him, provide him extra blankets and cushions for his head. He has lost his mind, they say, given the abuse he had endured.

"We don't go to Libya," he asks, in almost perfect English, to this reporter.

"No, no, no. Europe. You go to Europe," says another.

He cracks a smile and then slowly lays back down, not fully realising where he is at. EUobserver did not press him for his back story, out of fear of provoking or triggering a trauma.

But others, in better shape, were able to speak.

Among them is 41-year old Ibraheem Wahbi, an Egyptian national with festering bullet wounds in both of his feet.

His fingers had also been broken. "Militias shot at me when I was in a bus with 20 other people," he said, via a translator.

"The bullets went through the bus, my feet and the other side of the bus. Four other people were shot," he said.

He said they had wanted to kidnap them, hold them for ransom.

"I bled from 3am, until 7am the next day," he said.

A 17-year old from Guinea Conakry said he had also arrived in Libya for work.

"The Arabs didn't pay," he said, noting he had spent three months in a prison in Zuwara.

EUobserver won't publish his full name, given his age. But he was among the 369 saved on the wooden boat earlier this week.

He said they had left Zuwara at 2am Saturday morning and that the engine stopped working at around 10am.

"Everyone was panicking, kids started to cry. I put my head in my hands, I thought it was over," he said, noting they managed to get the engine working again.

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.

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