Humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee said Sunday it has relaunched rescue efforts off Libya, seven months after it abandoned operations using its ship Aquarius and despite a refusal of European ports to accept the migrants. The Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking will “conduct search and rescue activities in the central Mediterranean” for SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (known by its initials in French as MSF), the group said in a statement.
“As people are still fleeing Libya on one of the most perilous sea crossings in the world, and with almost no available rescue assets present in the central Mediterranean, it has been an imperative for both SOS Mediterranee and MSF to return at sea following the ending of their operations with the Aquarius in December 2018.” After nearly three years of operations in which it rescued some 30,000 migrants, the Aquarius was forced to cease operations in December 2018 because of what the group said was obstruction by some European countries.
The International Organization for Migration says at least 426 people have died trying to cross the central Mediterranean so far this year. SOS Mediterranee said the migrants were attempting “to escape the escalating conflict in Libya and the deplorable conditions of Libyan detention centres”. The new operation comes one month after the arrest in Sicily of the German captain of the Sea-Watch 3, Carola Rackete, for docking without permission to land rescued migrants.
Rackete was held for several days after the Sea-Watch 3 hit an Italian police speedboat while entering the port of Lampedusa island despite a ban from entering Italian waters. She argued she was compelled to avert a human tragedy and bring ashore 40 migrants who had been rescued on June 12 in the Mediterranean.—APP