Credit: Priscilla Tangari

Ocean Viking detained on New Year’s Eve


The Ocean Viking is detained for the second time in two months, ending the year in the same spirit as it started: With the obstruction of humanitarian assistance through an unnecessary, arbitrary and discriminatory legal provision targeting Search and Rescue NGOs that have saved the lives of almost 1,000 people in the week since Christmas Eve.

This second detention comes after the team on the Ocean Viking rescued 244 people from drowning under clear instructions and explicit authorization by the Libyan and Italian maritime authorities.

The same Italian authorities now accuse the Ocean Viking of non-compliance with the instruction “to proceed without delay and at maximum sustainable speed and with a direct route, towards the assigned place of safety”. We can only assume that our “failure to comply” consists in a minor change of Course of the Ocean Viking when an alert to a distress case with at least 70 shipwrecked persons onboard a mere 15 Nautical Miles away came in. An updated position of the boat in distress later showed that it was 60 Nautical Miles further north, at which point the Ocean Viking, no longer in a position to render assistance, immediately resumed Course towards the assigned place of safety in Bari that was reached without any delay.

“If following international maritime law is a crime, we are guilty,” says Anita, Search and Rescue Coordinator onboard Ocean Viking. “While changing Course to make ourselves available to render assistance to at least 70 people that were reported to be shipwrecked close to our ship, we clearly stated that we would resume our original Course to Bari as soon as we would be relieved of the duty to render assistance by a competent authority. Without any indication that anyone else was coming to the rescue of these people in distress, we simply didn’t have a legal and moral choice but to respond to this alert – anything else would have been a breach of international law. Yet, we are paying for this minor deviation that did not lead to a delay on the almost 3-day voyage to the assigned port in Bari with the second detention in two months.”

“This decree-law, introduced almost exactly a year ago, is the latest attempt by a European government to obstruct assistance to people in distress at sea. It is designed to keep SAR vessels out of the central Mediterranean for prolonged periods and reduce our ability to help people in distress, which will inevitably lead to more people tragically drowning at sea,” Anita adds.

Just two weeks ago, on December 16th, a horrific shipwreck claimed the lives of at least 61 people in that same stretch of sea. Punishing civil society organisations for carrying out the lifesaving work that European States fail to do in the central Mediterranean is an unacceptable criminalisation of humanitarian assistance.

Photo Credit : Priscilla Tangari