The rescue ship Ocean Viking completed a 23-day mission this week, plucking 356 migrants, mainly African, from Libya’s perilous waters, after a major stand-off with European nations.
The over-crowded vessel, operated by French charities SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), had to cope for nearly two weeks as arguments raged over who should take in the stranded migrants.
“This is an unacceptable situation,” MSF rescue coordinator Nicholas Romaniuk said in an interview with AFP after the ship docked Tuesday in Marseille, southern France.
“The situation at sea is worse than before because now we have more information on the boats in distress,” says Romaniuk, referring to data that was previously provided by the Italian and Maltese Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centres(MRCCs).
“And also because the wait to rescue people is still long. Twelve days in our case,” he says after European nations turned away the rescue ship.
“(It was) thanks to the (six) European nations, including Malta, which organised themselves to welcome the survivors, but after the first rescue (August 9) we made a request to dock the survivors. And nobody answered except for Libya.
“But the Libyan coastguards bring people back to Tripoli, a city at war in a country at war, and to detention centres such as Tajoura (bombed in early July), still open despite promises it would close.
“No other MRCCs responded to our call.
“We are no longer in the context of maritime law, they are political choices but we shouldn’t even be asking ourselves these questions.”