Migrant rescue ship Ocean Viking blocked at Italian port

The Ocean Viking, held at Trapani port in Sicily. (Credit: Anthony Jean/SOS Mediteranée)

The Ocean Viking migrant rescue ship has been blocked at a port in Sicily for a second time in just over a year following an 11-hour inspection by Italian authorities. 

SOS Mediterranée, the humanitarian organisation that operates the vessel, said the Ocean Viking has been detained in the port of Trapani after inspectors took issue with the registration of containers on the deck of the ship.

The structures were added two and a half years ago to house survivors and store equipment, SOS Mediteranee said, insisting that they had been “validated by all relevant regulatory bodies”.

“This new detention shows the extreme surveillance to which the search and rescue boats are subject,” the group added.

The detention comes one year after Ocean Viking set sail again after being blocked at port in Sicily for five months over alleged safety issues. It is also the sixth inspection since it began its rescue missions in the Mediterranean ocean in 2019.

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“We are now going to consult with our owner, the maritime administrations and the regulatory agencies to implement the measures and the administrative formalities which will guarantee a rapid release of the Ocean Viking,” said Caroline Abu Sa'Da, executive director of SOS Mediterranée Switzerland, based in Geneva.

“The objective is obviously to be able to get back to sea as quickly as possible in order to continue saving lives.”

More than 1,300 people died last year in the central Mediterranean, notoriously one of the most dangerous migratory routes in the world.

Over the same period, Ocean Viking helped to rescue nearly 3,000 people seeking refuge in Europe after setting off from countries including Libya, Tunisia and Turkey in often overcrowded, unsafe and poorly equipped boats.

Nearly 67,000 people arrived in Italy by sea in 2021, according to figures compiled by the UN refugee agency UNHCR, often fleeing war, extreme climate conditions or poverty in their home country. The vast majority of these – around 50,000 people – disembarked in Sicily.

The commune of Trapani and its port authorities have been contacted for comment.