Italy blocks migrant rescue ship after inspection –

Authorities in the Sicilian port of Trapani detained the Ocean Viking migrant rescue ship following an 11-hour inspection, the group that operates the vessel said Tuesday.

Search and rescue group SOS Mediterranee criticised what it called the “extreme scrutiny”, insisting everything was in order.

The detention comes exactly one year after Ocean Viking returned to the seas following five months spent blocked in Italy over alleged safety issues.

A routine inspection on Monday by Trapani port state control officers found separate issues with the registration of container structures on the rear deck of the Ocean Viking, the group said in a statement.

The structures were added two and a half years ago to shelter survivors and hold the equipment, the group added, insisting they had been “validated by all relevant regulatory bodies”.

“We regret the extreme scrutiny our vessel continues to be subjected to,” said Frederic Penard, director of operations of SOS Mediterranee.

“This inspection was the sixth port state control the Ocean Viking underwent since starting operations in the central Mediterranean in August 2019.

“This leads to new delays in the resumption of our operations.”

Tens of thousands of people seeking to reach Europe cross the central Mediterranean each year, setting off from North Africa in what are often leaky and overcrowded boats.

According to Italian interior ministry figures, more than 67,000 migrants arrived on Italy’s shores in 2021.


At the end of December, Italy allowed the disembarkation of almost 1000 migrants from Sea-Watch 3 and The Geo Barents Ship.

The latter, run by Doctors Without Borders, had rescued some 558 people in eight separate operations off the coast of Libya over eleven days. They included 174 minors and an eight-month pregnant woman.

Overall, the UN refugee agency estimated that around 115,000 arrived by sea last year to Italy, Greece, Spain, Cyprus, and Malta. More than 1,800 were reported dead or missing.

In addition, according to data from The New Humanitarian, an average of four people died each day in 2021 while trying to cross from North Africa to Europe via the Mediterranean.

Some 30,000 were returned to Libya with the assistance of the Libyan Coast Guard, a controversial practice as reports of torture, sexual abuse, and violence come out of detention centres run by reported semi-official militants.

Yet, the EU supports this practice and has ploughed millions into the Libyan Coast Guard, who are consistently accused of grave human rights abuses. UN human rights agencies have consistently sounded the alarm over human rights abuses and “reckless and violent behaviour” perpetrated by the Coast Guard.

Julia Shaefermeyer, communications officer for a search and rescue NGO aboard the Ocean Viking in 2021, detailed the testimonies of those who returned to Libya.

One woman, known as Angel, detailed how she was systematically raped and beaten in a Libyan detention centre after a failed crossing.

“I only escaped because they threw my naked body into a container on the street thinking I was dead,” she told Shaefermeyer.

Another woman explained how she was raped by who she thought were coast guards in Tripoli, became pregnant and was then beaten so badly she miscarried. She was then forced onto a boat and made the crossing with no medical treatment for her condition.

“We were able to give her emergency treatment for the miscarriage she suffered, including medication to prevent infection,” Shaefermeyer said at the time.

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