ROME – No one may ever know for sure what caused a man who had just been rescued to jump overboard on a wandering rescue vessel Wednesday night. It could have been the smell of sweat, urine and vomit from 572 people crammed into the ship – or the fact that no one in Europe seems to care about their fate. After jumping aboard, the man was rescued and told his savior, the French NGO SOS Mediterranee Search and Rescue, that he “could not take it anymore.”
The vessel, Ocean Viking, picked up the man and the others – including 183 minors, two of whom have disabilities – in six dangerous operations in the waters between Sicily and Malta in late June and early July. If they were not rescued, they could have sunk and disappeared ̵
By 2021, so far more than 38,000 people have arrived by sea in Europe, a remarkable increase from the same time last year when the pandemic even banned NGOs from docking in Italy. How many people died in the attempt to cross will never be known, as the only people keeping an eye on the departures from Libya are smugglers.
The population of Ocean Viking was rescued from unsafe fish that were wound up and not rubber boats – a change of strategy that those who see Mediterranean immigration will notice. The return to the type of wooden boats used before NGO ships armed waters off the coast of Libya means something, even if no one knows exactly what. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi had recently been in Libya, whose coastguard is supported and paid by the EU to block departure, detention of migrants in horrific detention centers, their fate from the hands of armed militias.
The crew of Ocean Viking says that if they do not get a safe haven to leave their rescued people, they will run out of food by Saturday. With over 570 survivors housed on the rear deck of Ocean Viking, all available space is used, making it impossible for our team to distribute any food other than pre-packaged rations covering 24 hours of nutritional needs for each person, Said Luisa Albera, the ship’s search and rescue coordinator on Thursday. These pre-packaged meals end on Friday.
SOS Mediterranee Search and Rescue’s medical team also says they have seen an increase in psychological distress and exhaustion.
“One of the two minors with disabilities is showing signs of increasing body stiffness due to reduced physical movements and had to be moved to the medical clinic at night,” a statement from the group said.
“The situation aboard the Ocean Viking worsens with the hour.”
– Luisa Albera.
In recent weeks, other charity rescue ships, including Médecins Sans Frontières Geo Barents, have been allowed to go by their rescued people, who are quarantined for ten days before being distributed to camps across Italy. Geo Barrents were then sequestered in Sicily after the Italian Coast Guard said they found “various technical irregularities that could compromise the safety of the crew and occupants.” A Coast Guard spokesman told The Daily Beast that these irregularities included not having enough life-saving equipment on board, including rafts and belts.
It is unclear why Ocean Viking has been kept in check, or whether it marks a change in Italy or Europe’s strategy. The Italian government continues to struggle with how to deal with the problem after years of being flooded by people willing to risk their lives for the better.
But sporadically, some migratory lifeboats stop and allow others to disembark, sending mixed messages to NGOs who tend to assume they can land in Italy. The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a question for clarification as to why this ship is different.
Whatever the reason, the situation on board is dismal, Albera explained. “The situation on board Ocean Viking worsens with the hour. There is no time for discussions behind closed doors, ”she said. “Despite five requests for a safe haven sent by Ocean Viking to competent maritime authorities, we are kept in the dark. It is inhuman to make survivors wait on the deck of our ship, exposed to sun and elements. It is beyond imagination. Inevitably, tensions and exhaustion are extremely aboard the Ocean Viking. ”
A former NGO captain who had just returned from a mission told The Daily Beast that the longer migrants stay at sea, the more dangerous it becomes for everyone, including the rescue team and the ship’s crew. These tensions are exacerbated by the usual racism found among migrants – many Middle Easterners refuse to sleep near Africans, calling them derogatory terms and complaining to rescue workers about sharing the humble facilities the ships have on board. There are no cabins or beds, everyone has to sleep on the open decks. Tarps are set up to protect them when it rains, which can soon be a problem.
“As if the situation for the survivors was not enough, the weather will get worse,” Albera said. “It is not only a moral obligation to quickly provide a place where people are rescued at sea, but it is a legal duty. We call on European Member States to show solidarity and support coastal states. ”