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  • SOS Mediterranean takes to the sea to save migrants


     SOS Mediterranean and Médecins Sans Frontières chartered a new rescue vessel to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.  The Ocean Viking will take over from Aquarius, which had to stop its rescue operations last December, blocked at the port of Marseille, without flag and subjected to various judicial investigations.


     SOS Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced on Sunday (July 21st) that they were relaunching their migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean.  / Pau Barrena / AFP

     "Today we go back to sea with a new ship: the Ocean Viking.  SOS Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced on Sunday (July 21st) that they were relaunching their migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean.  Seven months after the end of the Aquarius operations, it is a more suitable vessel that is expected to set sail in a few weeks to save lives in the central Mediterranean.

     Fundraising for the Ocean Viking
     69 meters long and 15 meters wide, built in 1986 for assistance to oil rigs in the North Sea, the Ocean Viking is en route to the Mediterranean from the waters of Norway, which it flag.  On board, about thirty people, Norwegian crew members, search and rescue team, medical staff and assistance.

     "After months of preparation, it is a boat that is particularly suited to this mission," says Sophie Beau, co-founder and CEO of SOS Méditerranée.  He has more lifeboats than the Aquarius, he is faster.  On board, there is a hospital and much better reception conditions for men and women rescued at sea. It is especially suitable for sailing during all seasons and we want to have a permanent presence on the water.  "

     Sea-Watch, Sea-Eye, a new generation of NGOs

     A permanent presence that requires a lot of money.  If the NGOs have managed to raise enough funds to charter the building, they call for donations to launch relief missions.  Every day spent at sea costs € 14,000, or 5 million for a full year of rescue.  An amount that NGOs do not have yet.

     In a video call for donations, members of the association, donors and public figures, like the singer Bernard Lavilliers, encourage individuals to participate in the financing of this citizen boat.  "We had some pledges from local authorities, but nothing from the states or the European Union.  In any case, it is a citizen boat and private donations allow us to remain independent.  We need them and this solidarity sea land, "says Sophie Beau.  In 2018, 98% of NGO funding came from private donations.

     A context hostile to humanitarians
     For seven months, the two NGOs were looking for a new ship to resume their rescue operations.  The former building of SOS Mediterranean, the Aquarius, chartered in 2016, had saved more than 30,000 people before being forced to stop operations in December 2018, after two months blocked in the port of Marseille.  "The Aquarius has been subject to judicial harassment.  We were sued by the Italian authorities for a waste sorting issue that led to the seizure of the boat, "says Sophie Beau.  The ship had lost the flag of Gibraltar and Panama.

     All ships are required to rescue migrants at sea.

     One month after the arrest of Sea-Watch 3 and its captain Carola Rackete in Sicily, MSF and SOS Mediterranean prefer to ignore the refusal of some European ports to host humanitarian vessels.

    Mathilde Blayo the 21/07/2019 at 16:23
     Updated on 21/07/2019 at 16:01

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