New migrant rescue ship launches from Marseille

Humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee has dispatched its new rescue ship Ocean Viking from the French port of Marseille on its first mission to save migrants off the coast of Libya.

New migrant rescue ship launches from Marseille
The group's old ship Aquarius. Photo: AFP

The group had halted its missions with its Aquarius ship in December 2018 after they said it was blocked by some EU governments following nearly three years of operations and the rescue of 30,000 migrants at sea.

Libya, caught up in civil conflict since the 2011 uprising killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi, remains a major and dangerous transit route for mostly sub-Saharan migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe.

EU states disagree on how to handle the migrants and some are taking a more hardline position, turning away rescue ships as they seek to dock to drop off rescued migrants.   

The Ocean Viking, the successor to the Aquarius, left Marseille at 2000 GMT, according to an AFP journalist aboard the vessel.

The Ocean Viking, displaying the red and white colours of its new Norwegian flag, is expected to reach the central Mediterranean in two to three days.    

“A lot of (migrant) crossings are taking place right now, that's related to the summer weather conditions but also to the situation in Libya, which has become a real trigger and explains why people are taking even more risks than before,” Frederic Penard, the rescue group's operational director, said.

Funded in partnership with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the Ocean Viking has 31 people onboard to deal with rescue operations, including crew, maritime rescuers, doctors, a midwife and a cultural mediator.

The UN migrant agency (IOM) says at least 840 people have gone missing so far this year trying to cross from Libya's coast to reach Europe, most of them in the central Mediterranean.

The Ocean Viking will not enter into Libyan waters, the rescue group said.

Civil society rescue operators say they face increasingly hostile reactions from some EU states which are resisting taking in rescued migrants. Only a few civilian rescue vessels are still operating in the Mediterranean.

Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has banned some rescue ships from entering Italian waters. 

On Friday, at least 164 migrants rescued by Spanish and German NGOs were stranded at sea unable to enter Italian ports. The German ship was allowed to dock in Malta with 40 migrants on Sunday.

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Woman lost at sea after attempting to cross from France to Britain

British and French campaigners have warned about the dangers of migrant Channel crossings after a woman attempting the journey went missing after falling into the sea last week.

Woman lost at sea after attempting to cross from France to Britain
Authorities have warned that the crossing is dangerous. Photo: AFP

If confirmed, the woman's death would be the first casualty in what is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Lisa Doyle, director of advocacy at Britain's Refugee Council, called for “more safe and regular routes of travel” for migrants, warning that the trip through heavy marine traffic was “treacherous”.

“This border kills, silently,” said Calais Migrant Solidarity, a French non-governmental organisation, protesting against border enforcement policies  it says are becoming “more and more violent”.

British rescuers launched a search last Friday after reports that three people with life jackets had fallen into the sea from a boat carrying migrants across the Channel.

Two of the missing migrants were found but a woman remained unaccounted for. The search, which also involved Belgian and French coastguards, was suspended on Saturday.

The UK Home Office interior ministry on Monday said a “thorough and extensive” air and sea search had been carried out and it would pursue an investigation into the incident.

“Crossing the Channel in a small boat is a huge risk. The criminal gangs who perpetuate this are ruthless and do not care about loss of  life,” the ministry said in a statement.

Dozens of migrants have made the crossing in recent days.

Two were intercepted by British border guards last week crossing the 33km waterway in a kayak.

French authorities also last week rescued 11 migrants attempting the crossing after their boat capsized.