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Italian Authorities Detain NGO’s Vessel After Port State Inspection

NGO vessel placed under port state detention in Italy
Ocean Viking is under detention in Sicily (Anthoy Jean photo courtesy of SOS Mediterranee)

Published Jan 14, 2022 6:11 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Italian Coast Guard placed the OSV Ocean Viking, operating for one of the charities seeking to rescue migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Northern Africa, under the vessel’s second administrative detention in 18 months. The NGO SOS Mediterranee alleges that their vessel is being subjected to “extreme scrutiny,” while the Italian authorities reported that dangerous safety violations were again identified during the vessel’s annual Port State Inspection.

Built in 1986, the Ocean Viking, registered in Norway is a typical OSV. The 2,000 gross ton vessel began operations for SOS Mediterranee seeking out migrants setting off mostly from Libya attempting to cross the Mediterranean. SOS Mediterranee says the vessel was adapted for its new role at a European shipyard in 2019 adding structures to the deck to house people. In addition, the vessel is equipped with two radars and two infrared cameras to assist with the rescues. 

Measuring 227 feet in length the vessel has at times taken aboard hundreds of migrants rescued from the sea causing difficult situations as they sought permission from the authorities for a port of refuge to disembark the people. Since August 2019, the NGO says the vessel has rescued 5,100 people operating in 2021 alone 33 missions that brought 2,832 people to shore.

The Ocean Viking docked on December 25 in Trapani, a port in northwest Sicily after it was granted permission to land the lasted group of migrants. After the disembarkation of the migrants, the vessel is required to undergo a period of quarantine between missions, and on January 10, the Italian Coast Guard boarded the ship for what it called “an ordinary periodic inspection, mandatory since more than 12 months had passed since the last inspection,” which was conducted in December 2020. The Coast Guard says like other Port State Inspections, the purpose was “verifying compliance with the navigation safety and protection regulations.”

The ship was placed under an "administrative detention" until the owner of the vessel rectifies irregularities found during the inspection. The Coast Guard says the inspection revealed “various irregularities of a technical nature, such as to compromise the safety of the crews and people recovered on board during the assistance services performed. In particular, among others, irregularities were detected such as the malfunctioning of the on-board power supply, essential in the event of an emergency at sea, and the presence of flammable liquids stored in unsuitable premises of the ship.”

SOS Mediterranee, however, says the vessel was subjected to an 11-hour inspection, “the sixth Port State Control the Ocean Viking underwent since starting operations in the central Mediterranean in August 2019.” Announcing the detention of the ship, the NGO alleges that as part of the extreme scrutiny of the vessel, the Italian authorities called into question the container structures on the aft deck of the Ocean Viking that hold the equipment needed for the lifesaving work. They contend that the structures have been aboard the vessel for two and a half years certified as cargo but the authorities are now saying that it has to be registered differently.

It is the second detention the Italians have placed on the Ocean Viking. In July 2020, the Italian Coast Guard reported that it had found safety violations aboard the vessel. SOS Mediterranee says it undertook administrative and technical efforts to meet the new safety standards that were required by the Italian authorities. The vessel remained under detention till December 2020 while the prior matter was resolved confirming that all requirements were met, and all deficiencies noted during the previous inspection were rectified.

The organization says it will now be consulting with our shipowner, the maritime administrations, and regulatory agencies to implement the measures and paperwork that guarantee a quick release of the vessel in order to resume its mission.