Migrant rescue operations off Libya were relaunched by the SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charities, seven months after they were forced to abandon efforts using their ship Aquarius. We “are back at sea with a new vessel, the Ocean Viking, to conduct search and rescue activities in the central Mediterranean,” reads a statement published yesterday (21 July). “As people are still fleeing Libya on one of the most perilous sea crossings in the world, and with almost no available rescue assets present in the central Mediterranean, it has been an imperative for both SOS Mediterranee and MSF to return.”
The charities also said that “426 people … have died since the beginning of the year in the central Mediterranean in an attempt to escape the escalating conflict in Libya and the deplorable conditions of Libyan detention centers.” The Aquarius ship was forced to cease its operations in December 2018, owing to what the charities see as obstruction by some European countries, after having rescued rescued some 30,000 migrants. The Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking, which was co-funded by MSF, has a crew of nine, plus a search and rescue team and medical and other staff.
Libya, which has been convulsed by chaos and carnage since the 2011 uprising that killed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi, has long been a major transit route for migrants and refugees, especially from sub-Saharan Africa, desperate to reach Europe. Exploiting this turmoil and general lawlessness in the country, people traffickers have dispatched hundreds of thousands of migrants on perilous journeys across the central Mediterranean, though the number of crossings decreased sharply from 2017 as many migrants get picked up by the Libyan coastguard in operations supported and funded by the European Union. Thousands of migrants and refugees are being held in government-run detention centers in what human-rights groups describe as inhumane conditions.