Over- crowded vessel at sea an ‘unacceptable situation’ says rescuer

He 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 after the ship docked Tuesday in Marseille , southern France .

Here are the lessons he learnt from the ship’ s first mission :

“ 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 .

“ 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. ”

– Fleeing ‘ Libyan hell’ –
Libya , caught up in civil conflict since the 2011 uprising killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi , remains a major and dangerous transit route for mostly sub – Saharan migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe .

“ People are fleeing what they call Libyan hell and continue to do so even if there is no one left to help them except a handful of NGOs .

It is unacceptable suffering and it is a shame for Europe , ” Romaniuk said .

“ Well done, really well done to those who continue to intervene, whether NGOs , military boats , or commercial cargo ships : well done to all those who do not give up . ”

– A pricey operation –
The Aquarius rescue ship , run by SOS Mediterranee , halted operations in December 2018 saying it was blocked by some EU governments following nearly three years rescuing 30, 000 migrants at sea.

“ We have found the right tool and the right crew, even if the work remains difficult for all of us .

We have found a new home , even though our heart will remain aboard the Aquarius ship forever ” Romaniuk said .

“ But before (we set off ) we said to ourselves : ‘ It’ s not going to be like before ’ .

And we were surprised . It was like before !

We will continue to improve it . For instance , installing containers on the deck , even though we could not house everyone, it was the right idea .

“ But of course , it ’ s expensive for an NGO operation to wait 12 days .

“ As nobody wanted to let us dock , we had to go back to the north , wait until we reached Malta and then as we were not allowed to refuel , we had to come back here, to Marseille …

There are additional expenses on fuel in addition to the rental of the boat ( 14, 000 euros or over 15, 000 dollars per day).

“ Is it a deliberate plan to keep us out of the rescue zone ?”

Romaniuk asks .

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