After the “Ocean Viking” affair, what future for rescue at sea?

The task of NGOs rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean will become even more complicated. In quick succession, the far-right Italian government refused to respond to requests for safe harbor issued by the ship Humanity 1of the NGO SOS Humanity, as well as Geo Barentsship of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), and at theocean viking of SOS Mediterranean. The first two ended up being authorized to disembark first only women, children and the sick then, after migrants threw themselves into the water in despair, all the people on board. L’ocean vikinghe had to set sail for France, which opened the port of Toulon to him on Friday 11 November.

Will this episode sound the death knell for rescue at sea? “This is not the first ordeal that NGOs have to face, which have already suffered a whole series of intimidation and administrative obstructions, under the Salvini government, so I do not see them stopping”, says Camille Schmoll, director of studies at the EHESS.

1,891 migrants missing at sea since 2021

“We plan to leave very soon, in a few weeks,” announcement of fact SOS Méditerranée, the association which charters theocean viking.Time to renewcrew and provisions, we intend to re-embark as soon as possible, next week I hope, also indicates Caroline Willemen, project manager for Doctors Without Borders, who is chartering the Geo Barents. It is imperative that people in distress be rescued, in accordance with maritime law. » While crossings have been on the rise since 2021, 1,891 migrants have disappeared in the Mediterranean, trying to reach Europe, including 1,337 in the central Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration.

It remains to be seen where the NGOs will be able to land, which, according to this researcher, rescued 16% of those rescued at sea, the rest being carried out by private vessels”. “There will be very strong pressure on Italy from its European economic partners”, resumes Camille Schmoll. But will this change the position of the far-right government? Not sure, especially since Italy, which has already received nearly 88,000 migrants since the start of the year, considers that it has already done more than its share.

Landing in France, “an exceptional situation that must not happen again”

So who else? “Half of the rescues at sea in 2021 were carried out by Tunisia and Libya, which, for the latter, is a total aberration from a human rights point of view, given the fate reserved for migrants in this country”, continues Camille Schmoll, who adds that “It’s been ten years since Malta no longer responds when NGOs make a request for a safe port”. As for Spain, which had opened the port of Valencia toAquarius in 2018, she did not respond about theocean viking, assures SOS Mediterranean. Which does not suggest that she is willing to take over.

France remains. But the government has already insisted on the exceptional nature of the reception of the ship in Toulon. A landing in France “is an exceptional situation that must not happen again”because of the distance to the places of rescue, moreover himself agreed François Thomas, the president of SOS Méditerranée.

A European solidarity mechanism to be improved

“So that the question of the disembarkation is no longer a problem, exhibits Jean-François Ploquin, director of the Forum Réfugiés-Cosi association, a solidarity mechanism is needed which, once the boat has docked, distributes the survivors among the various European countries. » Such a mechanism exists: the European Union developed it in 2019 and updated it in June 2022. But so far, only 164 migrants have been relocated in 2022 from Italy to other Member States, including 117 in virtue of the famous mechanism.


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