As Italy was hit by the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak late last week, the Ocean Viking, the search and rescue ship operated by Doctors Withour Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and SOS MEDITERRANEE, was put under quarantine following the disembarkation of 276 people rescued at sea in the prior days.
The Ocean Viking has complied with all measures and has now been anchored off Sicily for five days. It is increasingly clear that quarantine restrictions are being discriminatorily applied only to search and rescue vessels.
“Quarantining the Ocean Viking is equivalent to stopping an ambulance in the middle of an emergency,” said Michael Fark, MSF head of mission for Search and Rescue. “This is a discriminatory action – the only vessels that have been put into quarantine are those conducting rescues.”
In the past 48 hours we have had reports of boats in distress in the central Mediterranean. We are deeply worried about the fate of people travelling in them.
Although we have fully complied with the preventive measures, we currently have no reason to suspect any of the crew onboard onboard as having contracted, or having been exposed to, the virus. In compliance with a request from Italian authorities, the temperature and health status of all is being checked and reported by MSF medical team onboard twice-daily.
“As the conflict in Libya escalates, migrants and refugees trapped in the country say they have no other choice but to risk their lives to escape across the Mediterranean,” said Fark. “It is urgent for the Ocean Viking to go back to sea to rescue men, women and children from drowning.”
“The legitimate public health concerns posed by COVID-19 should not be used to justify the prevention of saving lives as sea,” said Fark.