Wednesday

1st Feb 2023

On board with SOS Méditerranée

Tunisian man throws himself overboard

  • An emergency rescue was launched to save him (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

As of Thursday morning (8 July) an uneasy calm has settled on the deck of the Ocean Viking rescue vessel.

But the mood as the day progresses is one of continued frustration and tension, only made slightly better by a cool breeze blowing over the deck.

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  • "We will throw ourselves in the water if no solution is found," said Dahavia, a 38-year old Libyan (r). (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

The relief is only temporary with some already cracking and mounting protests. As of early evening, there had been no fights.

But on Wednesday night a young man from Tunisia threw himself into the water and started to swim away in total desperation, unable to cope.

Some of those on the deck were singing and dancing, initially unaware he had gone overboard. When he was back safely on the deck, a loud cheer erupted.

The Tunisian had been among the first to be rescued by the Ocean Viking, helping out the crew with the new arrivals.

But he quickly withdrew into himself and became quiet as the days progressed.

"When do we arrive?" he queried this reporter on Thursday afternoon.

The question is asked by everyone, the crew included.

Without a port of safety, the people onboard are facing a possible disaster with the last of the food rations being handed out Friday.

"Authorities are informed every day of the quantity," said SOS Mediterranee's rescue coordinator Luisa Albera on Thursday morning.

"We have no place of safety. Until now we don't have information," she added.

On starboard side, we can see Sicily and a possible glimmer of hope.

But with survivors unable to charge their telephones and connect to the internet, they are all kept in the dark.

Rumours are beginning to spread that a consent form handed out by the crew for photos is actually a one-way ticket back to Libya.

The issue came to a head when a 14-year old Egyptian boy with striking green eyes started to cry after being approached by the crew.

He had apparently boarded with an older Egyptian man, who claimed to be his relative. It was not true, the child was alone.

The ruse had been uncovered by Sanad, an Arabic speaking member of SOS Mediterranée and the boy is now in safe hands.

But problems persist, and along with them, protest.

Among them are the women who on Wednesday demanded solutions and better conditions.

"We will throw ourselves in the water if no solution is found," Dahavia, a 38-year old Libyan, who is also two months pregnant, told EUobserver.

"We've seen war but we've never seen conditions like this," she said, via a translator.

"The space is not clean, we are eating the same food every day."

"We will never forget what we are living here today."

Dahavia along with her small family had arrived on Ocean Viking on 1 July.

Her disabled son is laying on the floor in the shelter, exhausted.

His mouth is partially open, his hands cupped awkwardly against his chest.

The staff later move him to a bed inside the medical module for greater comfort.

The same space has also been turned into a kindergarten to cater to the small children on board, some of them only infants.

They seem happy, oblivious to what is happening.

In the corner, the boys play Uno. Nearby, a four-year old African child is playing with coloured pencils.

And a 12-year old Libyan girl, who speaks English, is laughing with another. Inside the women's shelter, a baby is wrapped in a blanket.

After taking a snail's pace, Ocean Viking is now on the move as it continues to head north towards Sicily while staying in international waters.

With bad weather expected on Friday, the Norwegian-flagged vessel will remain east of Sicily to find some shelter.

Three-metre swells earlier this week triggered widespread bouts of sea sickness and misery.

The plan is to avoid a repeat at all costs, as they desperately await for a response on where to disembark 572 people.

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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The Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking search-and-rescue vessel saved 369 people on a boat in the middle of the night, some 80 nautical miles off Libya. EUobserver was onboard and witnessed the rescue first hand, in this exclusive by Nikolaj Nielsen.

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SOS Mediterranee's Ocean Viking carried out six rescues since the start of July. After a week of high tension, the NGO was finally given a port of safety in Sicily's port of Augusta on Friday.

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