Onboard the Ocean Viking – Ninety-four refugees and migrants, including four pregnant women, have been rescued by a charity ship off the coast of Libya.
The Ocean Viking, operated jointly by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF), carried out Tuesday’s rescue mission after being notified of a boat in distress at 4am local time (03:00 GMT).
“We were copied on an email sent to the Libyan coastguard by AlarmPhone this morning. As a result, we altered our course towards the potential boat in distress and arrived in the area 90 minutes later,” Nicholas Romaniuk, search and rescue coordinator for SOS Mediterranee, told Al Jazeera onboard the Ocean Viking.
The people rescued 42 nautical miles (78km) off Libya’s coast include 56 adults – 45 male and 11 female – and 38 children, of which at least 29 were unaccompanied. Four of the children are aged below five, with the youngest less than one-year-old.
“The weather conditions were not terrible for us but if it’s a rubber boat you’re on, one that is not certified to carry any weight, it can be deadly with the waves,” Romaniuk said. People were in danger of dying on that boat so we didn’t hesitate to send our rescue boats out, hand out life jackets to stabilise the situation before making sure everyone was transferred onboard the Ocean Viking.”
More than 1,000 people have been feared drowned in the Mediterranean this year, according to the International Organization of Migration (IOM). Almost 700 of those have been recorded in the central Mediterranean, with refugees and migrants embarking on the dangerous journey to Europe from Libya.
“Everyone’s condition is stable,” said Michael Fark, the MSF’s project coordinator onboard the Ocean Viking, adding that one of the women was heavily pregnant.
“We will continue to monitor her situation. People are resting now as they are quite tired from the journey and the emotions they have gone through.”
A Libyan coastguard boat approached the Ocean Viking following the successful embarkation of the refugees and migrants, ordering it to alter course before asking for details about the operation.
“As they approached us, they contacted us and asked for information regarding the rescue,” Romaniuk said.
“We are in international waters and out of any jurisdiction but due to the situation out here, we complied. It was the responsible thing to do.”
The Ocean Viking has rescued more than 1,000 people since it started operations in August this year.
Last year, the Aquarius, another joint operation run by SOS and MSF, was forced to shut down after rescuing almost 30,000 refugees and migrants in the central Mediterranean.