Rescue Vessel Declares Emergency After Six Migrants Attempt Suicide

Image courtesy SOS Mediterranee

Published Jul 3, 2020 7:18 PM by The Maritime Executive

Just over a week after resuming operations in the Central Mediterranean, the migrant rescue ship Ocean Viking has declared a "state of emergency" onboard due to a spate of attempted suicides.

Ocean Viking took aboard 180 maritime migrants in a series of rescues from June 25-30, including two women and 25 minors. She has appealed to Italy and to Malta for a port of refuge to offload the rescuees, as is standard practice for maritime rescue vessels in the region. In keeping with a longstanding pattern, both Italy and Malta have refused. 

According to operator SOS Mediterranee, 44 individuals on board are "in a state of acute mental distress" and expressed intentions to "inflict harm both on themselves and on others, including members of the crew." Over the course of the past 24 hours, six have attempted suicide: two jumped over the side on Thursday and had to be rescued; another three displayed intent to go overboard but were restrained; and one additional individual attempted to hang himself Friday morning. Two more have started a hunger strike. 

"The concerning behavior and decline of mental health of some of the 180 survivors onboard our vessel are a direct result of the unnecessary extended stand-off at sea and lack of solution for their disembarkation," wrote SOS Mediterranee in an appeal. "A ship at sea is not a safe place for survivors who have just endured a near-death experience on an unseaworthy dinghy."

Ocean Viking has declared a "state of emergency" on board and issued another appeal to Malta, Italy and other EU member states to make arrangements for safe disembarkation. Migrant rescue NGOs like SOS Mediterranee do not return rescuees to Libya - where they would be accepted and returned to detention - because of the known risk of human rights abuse. 

"For many – men, women and children – the deadly Mediterranean Sea crossing is the only hope of escaping the nightmare of rape, torture and forced labor that they are subject to in Libya," said Dr. Joanne Liu, president of SOS Mediterranee's medical partner MSF. "Our teams work in Libya – in Tripoli, Zintan, Misrata, Khoms, Zliten and Bani Walid. They constantly sound the alarm about what awaits migrants and refugees intercepted at sea and returned to Libya, but European governments continue to ignore them."