Norwegian Flag and owners step up to support new humanitarian rescue vessel in Mediterranean

Press Release

22 July 2019

London, UK. The Norwegian Flag and Norwegian owners have stepped up to provide a new civil society humanitarian rescue vessel the Viking Ocean to be operated in the central Mediterranean reflecting a renewed joint partnership between SOS MEDITERRANEE and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) for the rescue of persons in distress at sea under the established international law requirements of the UN Convention Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982.

In effect, Norway has taken the latest international lead in supporting and upholding lawful rescue at sea which falls under the larger umbrella of protecting human rights at sea for all persons living, working, transiting, or engaged in any other type of activity at sea in territorial and international waters around the globe.

This latest initiative is a much needed action-centred response to the ongoing Mediterranean migrant crisis which has been exacerbated by the continuing failed internal security, lack of rule of law, and desperate humanitarian conditions throughout Libya and in particular, Tripoli, due to militia in-fighting for control of the country, and control of its multi-billion dollar oil resources.

The deliberate targeting with airstrikes by the air force of the self-styled UAE-backed Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar on the migrant facility at Tajoura Detention Centre on 3 July 2019 which killed 53 and resulted in UN calls for detentions centres to be closed, has further precipitated the return to sea for both NGOs. That attack has been called a war-crime.

Announced yesterday, the vessel will support a return to rescue operations by two of the leading civil society NGOs, alongside the likes of the SeaWatch 3, which for a significant period was the only vessel operating in the Mediterranean in defiance of some EU member State’s deliberate political positioning to halt migration, which saw the arrest of its Captain Carola Rackete on 29th June 2019 for forcing entry to the Italian port of Lampedusa to disembark persons rescued at sea.

This latest twist in the ongoing EU political-humanitarian battle for the fundamental right to life of migrants crossing the central Mediterranean has put down yet another marker for civil society, once again effectively picking up the SAR capability from the ongoing failure by the EU in its collective migration policies, the associated demonization of persons rescued at sea, and associated interference with other vessels using international trade routes.

This matter is not just about civil society actions at sea challenging political and capability failures, but associated issues which stem from rescues by commercial vessels in transit which are legally and morally bound to respond to SAR calls enroute.

For MSF and SOS MEDITERRANEE, the necessity to act is clear.

“Politicians would have you believe that the deaths of hundreds of people at sea, and suffering of the thousands of refugees and migrants trapped in Libya, are the acceptable price of attempts to control migration,” said Sam Turner, MSF Head of Mission for Search and Rescue and Libya. “The cold reality is that while they herald the end of the so-called European migration crisis, they are knowingly turning a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis these policies perpetuate in Libya and at sea. These deaths and suffering are preventable, and as long as it continues, we refuse to sit idle.”

“Our presence at sea is to save lives – that’s the bottom line. But we will not be silent while vulnerable people suffer,” said Turner. “European leaders’ condemnation of the killings of vulnerable refugees and migrants in Libya must be met with the resumption of official search and rescue operations, disembarkation in places of safety and the immediate evacuation and closure of all detention centres. The hypocrisy of increased support for interceptions at sea, and forced return of people to these same places where these atrocities are happening, suggests these may be merely empty words of superficial sympathy.”

Human Rights at Sea fully supports all lawful efforts to save life at sea under established maritime and international law provisions, and has previously helped establish and support civil society NGOs operating in the central Mediterranean since mid-2015.

A spokesperson for Human Rights at Sea said: “It is significant that the Norwegian Flag has stepped up in support of humanitarian efforts for which the country has a long history of doing so, which is in stark comparison to the de-flagging of the previous humanitarian vessel, the MV Aquarius Dignitas, by Gibraltar and then Panama flag registries due to alleged Italian government complaints and pressure, and which was subject to our independent review as to the ramifications.”

About the Ocean Viking

  • Offshore supply vessel was originally built in 1986 as an Emergency Response and Rescue Vessel (ERRV).
  • Fully equipped to perform search and rescue (SAR) with four high-speed rescue boats, and a medical clinic with consultation, triage and recovery rooms. The ship can take up to 200 survivors onboard.
  • MSF team in charge of the medical and humanitarian needs of the rescued people on board consist of nine people: four medics (one doctor, two nurses, one midwife), a logistician, one Cultural Mediator, a Humanitarian Affairs Officer, a Field Communications Manager and a Project Coordinator who leads the team.
  • SOS MEDITERRANEE team in charge of the SAR, consist of 12 people led by the Search and Rescue Coordinator. There are a further nine crew employed by the ship owner.


Important Note to Readers

Human Rights at Sea continues to publish educational materials, publications, investigative case studies of individual and family testimony highlighting unacceptable conditions onboard vessels of all tonnages, as well as throughout the associated maritime supply chain, in order to establish greater public awareness of the issues raised without compromising our editorial freedom.

The charity does not subscribe to any imposed protocols and agreements with other entities effectively limiting the ability to report freely and objectively disclose facts, including the reality of unacceptable labour, and wider human rights abuses at sea.

The charity will therefore continue to take a legal and moral stand whenever and wherever it can to fairly advocate for the betterment of human rights, working conditions, and the reduction in abuse at sea. This includes pressing issues such as the criminalisation of seafarers and humanitarian rescuers, abuses towards migrants, impunity of flag States in transparently reacting to and addressing reported abuse, the expansion of the positive contributory role of civil society organisations in the maritime sector, and the provision of greater awareness of effective remedies when abuse occurs.

Our Ask in return

We rely on public and private donations to be able to continue this invaluable and independent work free of bias and interference and every donation, however small or large, goes to assure continuation of our transparent and objective front-end work ensuring that ‘human rights apply at sea, as they do on land’. Thank you.



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