ON BOARD OCEAN VIKING (AFP)
In four missions, Ocean Viking rescuers tore 356 people from makeshift canoes that left them with no chance on the Mediterranean. But now, the boat is moving away from Libya to find a port of landing.
The boat "is leaving the Libyan search and rescue zone (SAR) and is waiting to receive information on a safe port of landing that respects the norms of international law", wrote in a statement the NGOs SOS Mediterranean and Médecins sans Frontières, who operate the boat.
UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, has asked the European governments to consent to the landing of some 500 people rescued in recent days in the Mediterranean, including 151 aboard the Spanish humanitarian ship Open Arms which is waiting to off the Italian island of Lampedusa.
"It's a race against time," said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR's special envoy for the central Mediterranean, adding that "bad weather" is expected at sea.
On Tuesday, the Maltese Armed Forces published a photograph of an inflatable boat rescued with a dead man on board, while a companion in critical condition was transported by helicopter to a hospital.
"The deadly border of the planet is the Mediterranean," commented the Spanish NGO Open Arms about the cliché.
On board the Ocean Viking, rescuers interviewed by an AFP journalist indicated Tuesday late in the day heading north to find a waiting position, while continuing to scan the horizon in search of boats in distress.
- Canoe glued rubber -
"We are here to save lives, that's all," says coordinator of search and rescue operations, Nicholas Domaniuk, who is no longer surprised at the lack of cooperation of the maritime coordination centers in the central Mediterranean.
Since July 2018, it is the coordination center of Tripoli that is responsible for coordinating relief. However Ocean Viking's solicitations since arriving in the research zone last Thursday have remained unanswered.
On Monday, the first 105 rescued passengers passed a hair of the drama. Their boat, assembly of blue rubber pieces stuck together by the smugglers, was deflated when the help arrived at its height.
She literally burst the distribution of the lifejackets carried out, precipitating seven or eight people in the water.
For Tanguy L., an experienced leader in relief operations, the passengers, who had left the night before in Libya, were out of bounds for a long time. One of them was sitting on the back to plug a leak, while another was trying to prevent the air from escaping from a side puddle ...
Arrived aboard the Ocean Viking, the 105 survivors, mostly Sudanese, reported that a similar boat had left at the same time as they Sunday night.
In addition, "there may be 200, 300 people waiting at + camp +" in Libya, says Rizgallal, a 17-year-old Sudanese. "The man who organizes the boats knows when to leave".
He took advantage of the weather, lenient these days, but it must spoil in the night of Wednesday. "And also, with Eid (the big Muslim festival), the Libyan coastguards work less," he says.
- How many departures? -
Based on these testimonies, Ocean Viking continued Tuesday to scan the sea to find the boat mentioned. "It would be a real coincidence to fall on it," confessed Nicholas Domaniuk, who was hoping for a flight of recognition from the NGO Pilots Volunteers to get some guidance.
But no one will ever really know how many canoes leave Libya, nor how many lives and expectations have been swallowed up.
"I was a volunteer firefighter at the age of 16, then six years old, I served my community and my country, I was never reproached for it, so I do not see what people do not understand in this mission. ", says Tanguy, 38, who for three years has been linking up the rotations, first aboard Aquarius, the first boat of SOS Mediterranean, and now on the Ocean Viking, where he continues to train volunteers .
Only a handful of humanitarian ships continue their rescue missions, each time with the uncertainty of the landing: which port to turn to?
Monday, Malta rejected the request of the Ocean Viking. The Italian authorities sent him back to the Libyans.
© 2019 AFP