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Aid ship declares emergency after attempted suicides

July 3, 2020

One person attempted to hang himself while others tried to jump into open waters. The Ocean Viking has been stuck south of Sicily after requests to dock at seven ports rejected or ignored.

A man looks down as he sits on the deck of the Ocean Viking ship, in the Mediterranean Sea on June 30
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/SOS Mediterranee/F. Gasperini

A migrant rescue ship in the Mediterranean Sea declared a state of emergency on Friday after six passengers attempted suicide and fights broke out on board.

The situation on board the Ocean Viking was growing increasingly desperate after being rejected or having docking requests ignored from seven ports in Italy and Malta despite carrying 180 migrants, operator SOS Mediterranee said in a statement.

"After seven requests for a Place of Safety to the relevant maritime authorities within the past week and six suicide attempts by survivors within 24 hours, the Ocean Viking has declared a State of Emergency." the group wrote.

Early on Friday, one person tried to hang himself, while others exhibit "signs of extreme mental fatigue, depression and acute agitation which has erupted into several physical fights among the survivors on deck," SOS Mediterranee said.

The organization said two migrants jumped overboard in an apparent suicide attempt, before being rescued, and that three others were stopped before they jumped.

Two other passengers had begun a hunger strike, the group said.

Read more: Coronavirus crisis hampering Mediterranean migrant rescues

Ocean Viking: Lifesavers at Sea

More than a week at sea

The migrants were rescued from unseaworthy vessels in the central Mediterranean in four operations between June 25 and June 30. The first rescue took place in international waters where the jurisdictions of Italy and Malta overlap and the other two took place in Malta's search and rescue area, SOS Mediterranee said.

The people rescued include a pregnant woman and 25 children, 17 of whom are traveling without guardians or relatives. 

SOS Mediterranee renewed calls for a safe harbor, saying it was worried that "in addition to the acute psychological distress several of the survivors find themselves in, the deteriorating weather conditions pose an even greater threat to the lives of those who might try to reach shore by jumping off" the Ocean Viking.

Later on Friday, the organization asked for the medical evacuation for 44 Tunisians, Moroccans and Egyptians showing signs of "acute psychological distress" on the boat, which is south of Sicily.

Read more: Malta ignores distress calls from migrants at sea: NGO

100,000 crossings

In 2019, more than 100,000 migrants tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea. More than 1,200 of those people died trying, according to the International Organization for Migration. The favorable weather conditions of summer may encourage more people to attempt the dangerous crossing. 

Italy and Malta claim that private rescue boats encourage human traffickers in Libya to keep launching boats, and have taken a hard line towards them. 

Having borne the brunt of the ship arrivals, they have demanded that fellow EU Member States take in a higher share of the arrivals, but these calls have made very slow progress. 

If you are suffering from serious emotional strain or suicidal thoughts, do not hesitate to seek professional help. You can find information on where to find such help, no matter where you live in the world, at this website: https://www.befrienders.org/

Rescuing migrants off Libya