Search and rescue: Ocean Viking rescues 85 people in the Mediterranean

Sam Turner, MSF's head of mission for Libya and Search and Rescue, said:

“Today’s rescue shows that search and rescue vessels are needed now more than ever.

"The Ocean Viking had only been in the search and rescue area for approximately 10 hours when a distress alert came late last night, via Alarm Phone, who were in direct contact with the Italian and Maltese Rescue Coordination Centres. We had been searching all night, and had already deployed the rescue boats once, before a military patrol aircraft eventually spotted the boat early in the morning.

"We now have 85 vulnerable men, women and children on board – the youngest just one year old. While we were able to get them all safely on board, had we not found them this morning, this could have easily turned into another tragic shipwreck.

"Despite consistently attempting to contact the Libyan Rescue Coordination Centre since first receiving the distress alert, we did not receive a response until well after the rescue – offering us to go to Libya, contrary to international law.

"We will never return people to Libya. We know the horrors in Libya these people are fleeing. We know the situation is so desperate they feel the only choice for survival is taking to the sea. 

"No one should be forced to choose between risking their life at sea or to remain trapped in a cycle of abuse in Libya. This is no choice.

"The circumstances in which this boat in distress was eventually found and the response of authorities, be it Libyan or Italian or European, show how confused the situation at sea is, and how states are not putting their duty to save lives first.

"As long as Europe fails to act with humane and sustainable solutions, people will be forced to undertake this deadly journey. We will not sit by and watch as people drown at sea.”

According to the first testimonies from the rescued people on board, another boat had left the shore at the same time, the Ocean Viking remains the area, ready to assist other potential boats in distress. Live information about this search and rescue operation has also been relayed to the Maltese and Italian authorities, the nearest alternative Rescue Coordination Centres.

The Ocean Viking is operated in partnership between Médecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and SOS Méditerranée.


  • The Ocean Viking was alerted Thursday night (August 8) by Alarm Phone (an NGO) of a boat in distress with an estimated 80 people on board.
  • MSF and SOS rescue teams have been actively searching all night unsuccessfully. Rescue boats launched, but no boat spotted. 
  • Early Friday morning (August 9) the boat in distress was spotted by a military aircraft patrolling under EU operation EUNAVFORMED, and soon after the Ocean Viking had a visual.
  • At 9.15 am rescue boats were launched. The rescue was completed successfully at around 11.35 am
  • A total of 85 people – 79 male (56 adult males) , 6 female (4 adults females), 25 children (under 18) – were rescued and are safely on board.​​​​​​​
  • The Ocean Viking has resumed patrolling for potential boats in distress in the area.
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