Anxiety grows among 180 survivors left in limbo onboard Ocean Viking. Silence from European authorities.


Marseille, July 2nd, 2020 – Frédéric PENARD, SOS MEDITERRANEE’s Director of Operations: 

“Two years after a stand-off at sea that ended with the Aquarius, the Ocean Viking’s predecessor, having to sail to Valencia to disembark people rescued in the Central Mediterranean, we are now once again left in limbo without any indication of a port for disembarkation. The team of SOS MEDITERRANEE has rescued 180 people in four different operations in five days within the Maltese and Italian Search and Rescue Regions. The first two rescues occurred one week ago today. We have sent five requests to Italian and Maltese maritime authorities for a port of disembarkation to be assigned: we have received no response but two negative answers so far. survivors have told our teams they had spent two to five days at sea before being rescued by the Ocean Viking. This means that some of the 180 survivors have been in precarious conditions at sea since more than 8 days. This situation is unbearable. 

Where has the 2019 Malta agreement for the relocation of people rescued at sea gone? European Union Member States are aware people have continued to flee Libya on unseaworthy boats throughout the COVID-19 crisis which hit Europe in the spring and regardless of the absence of dedicated Search and Rescue vessels in the Central Mediterranean. Not only does the lack of Search and Rescue capacity to save lives at sea persist, but the EU is failing to provide safety to the few who have been rescued by an NGO ship trying to fill the SAR gap. 

Since early June, we have heard declarations announcing the restart of the Malta agreement this summer. From the communications the Ocean Viking has with maritime authorities, there is currently no sign of such a restart. This lack of solidarity and burden-sharing among EU Member States has direcimplications for th180 survivors who risked their lives to flee violence and abuse in war-torn Libya: tensions on board our vessel are rising, with several survivors threatening to jump overboard. Many have suffered sun and fuel burns during the time they spent on unseaworthy boats on the open sea, a person had to be evacuated after his medical condition deteriorated and we have a pregnant woman on board. We have heard from survivors how in a detention centre in Libya guards beat a survivor on his leg with a steel stick until they broke his foot. Countless people have told us they tried to flee Libya several times, were intercepted by the Libyan coastguard at sea and brought back to detention in a never-ending vicious circle. 

These people risked their lives to flee violence and abuse in war-torn Libya. They need to disembark in a place of safety without further delay – only then will their rescue be complete. The support of EU Member States has made a difference in the past. It must not stop now.” 


Note to the editors 

  • After staying docked in the port of Marseille for three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ocean Viking resumed operations on June 22. 
  • While Underway near Lampedusa on June 25, the Ocean Viking was alerted to a boat in distress. The SOS MEDITERRANEE Search and Rescue Team performed a first rescue of 51 people from a wooden boat in distress in International waters in the overlapping Italian and Maltese Search and Rescue Regions at noon. Approximately an hour later, the Ocean Viking was alerted to another boat in distress and proceeded to the rescue of 67 people from another wooden boat, 40NM south of Lampedusa in the Maltese Search and Rescue Region (SRR). 
  • Following these two rescues, the Ocean Viking requested the designation of a place of safety for the disembarkation of the survivors to the Maltese and Italian maritime authorities as per maritime conventions. This request has since been repeated on four occasions without any positive response. 
  • In the evening of Monday, June 29, the Ocean Viking requested support for the medical evacuation of one of the survivors whose physical condition was deteriorating. The person was evacuated to a patrol boat of the Italian Coast Guard. 
  • After standing by between Malta and Linosa for more than 48 hours, the Ocean Viking was alerted to a boat in distress on June 30. The SOS MEDITERRANEE Search and Rescue team spotted an overcrowded wooden boat and proceeded to rescue 47 people in the Maltese SRR. The survivors reported that they had been at sea for several days already. The same evening, the team performed another rescue of 16 people from a fiber glass boat in the Maltese SRR. The operation was coordinated by the Maltese Joint Rescue Coordination Center.


More details on the activities of the Ocean Viking can be found on onboard.sosmediterranee.org and at @SOSMedIntl on Twitter. You can find photos and videos of the current mission of the Ocean Viking here


There are presently 180 survivors on the Ocean Viking, including 2 women, 25 minors, 17 of which are unaccompanied. People are from 13 different nationalities. 

The SOS MEDITERRANEE teams have rescued a total of 31 799 people in the five years since the SOS MEDITERRANEE was founded as a European maritime and humanitarian organization in 2015. A total of 2276 people were rescued by the Ocean Viking since she started operations in August 2019. 903 people were rescued in 2020 so far. 

Since the end of the partnership with Médecins sans Frontières in June 2020, a crew of 22 SOS MEDITERRANEE team members covers all areas of our operations, search and rescue as well as medical and non-medical care for survivors. 

Operating the Ocean Viking at sea costs more than 14 000 EUR per day. The SOS MEDITERRANEE network repeated its call for donations and support for its lifesaving mission to European citizens on June 22. 


International: Laura Garel / l.garel@sosmediterranee.org
France: Méryl Sotty / m.sotty@sosmediterranee.org
Germany: Petra Krischok / presse@sosmediterranee.org
Italy: Flore Murard (Press) / f.murard@sosmediterranee.org & Francesco Creazzo (TV & Radio) / f.creazzo@sosmediterranee.org
Switzerland:  Elliot Guy (French) / e.guy@sosmediterranee.org & Eva Ostendarp (German) / e.ostendarp@sosmediterranee.org

Photo credit: Flavio Gasperini / SOS MEDITERRANEE