International Migrants Day: the story of the Ocean Viking

December 18, 2019

THE Ocean Viking, a refugee rescue ship operated jointly by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), saved the lives of 60 people from a watery grave in the Mediterranean last week. The European Union — having ignored the refugees’ initial distress calls as they attempted to escape war-torn Libya in an unseaworthy boat on the evening of November 28 — refused to provide the Ocean Viking with a port of safety. It wasn’t until Palermo mayor Leoluca Orlando called on Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte to end the five-day standoff on Twitter that the ship was allowed to dock.,,,

SOS Mediterranee and MSF originally began operating refugee rescue missions in the central Mediterranean onboard the Aquarius. But after a series of legal threats from EU member states, the charities were forced to abandon it.

In 2016-7 when we started operations, we were celebrated as heroes. The Aquarius rescued nearly 30,000 people,” Starke says. “But then in June 2018, the escalations started. We were the first ship to be refused access to harbours in Italy. We had to bring the rescued all the way from Italy to Valencia. That was the first really significant standoff, which by now has become the norm.”..

In November 2018, while the Aquarius was docked in Marseilles, the Panamanian government — under pressure from Italy — withdrew its flag from the ship. ….

“We tried Switzerland, Germany and France. These would have been robust flags — meaning that if there was political pressure then they would not give in so easily to the Italian government. But none of the governments granted them to us” and we had to give up.

It’s maritime law to rescue people in distress at sea. All we do is follow existing laws. And according to those laws, a rescue is only completed once the rescued have reached land: once they’re put in a port of safety. At the moment, it is European countries that have the nearest port of safety to our rescues and the only countries that can be considered safe. The fact is our work is hampered by European governments.

Despite abiding by refugee and maritime law, it is often the Ocean Viking’s crew (and the entire civil refugee rescue fleet in general) that are portrayed as the criminals or as human traffickers. “All we do is save people’s lives. We are human-rights defenders. However, if you talk to to some politicians, if you read some newspapers, if you read some of the nasty emails we receive, they say we smuggle people. They say we’re criminals.

Despite the EU’s willingness to allow refugees escaping Libya to die crossing the world’s deadliest border and the demonisation of those trying to prevent that, Starke says that he is optimistic. “I’m optimistic the situation will change, simply because it has to change.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/15/european-governments-should-stop-treating-solidarity-and-compassion-as-a-crime/

https://www.un.org/en/observances/migrants-day

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/w/it-shouldnt-be-civil-society-versus-european-governments

One Response to “International Migrants Day: the story of the Ocean Viking”


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