SOS MEDITERRANEE is a maritime humanitarian organisation for the rescue of lives at sea. It was founded in 2015 by citizens willing and eager to mobilise a response to the tragedy unfolding in the Central Mediterranean Sea. Since 2014, more than 28,500 lives have been lost at sea (IOM, 2024). This figure does not take into account the thousands of men, women and children who died without witnesses, victims of what is known as invisible shipwrecks, escaping all statistics.

As a response to this situation, the association has chartered an ambulance ship (the Aquarius from February 2016 to December 2018, then the Ocean Viking since July 2019), recruited a team of professional sea rescuers as well as a medical team and conducted almost 400 rescue operations so far.
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a few words from: Richard Watts

Since its creation, SOS MEDITERRANEE has been committed to safer seas and to the respect of maritime law by coastal states. The situation at sea is as dramatic as ever, and the most basic rights are too often violated but SOS MEDITERRANNEE has performed almost 400 rescue operations and saved over 39,000 lives.

It seems impossible to me that such noble action could ever be criticized but we only have to read a newspaper to headhear about some people’s disdain for these actions. How, in 2023, in just one year, could more than 2,750 people have lost their lives in these seas, while at the same time the goods we trade are transiting constantly? How can the sea that we rely on for our daily business be the source of death and terror for thousands of women, children and men for so many years? These seas that we visit on holiday with our family in the summer months. The Mediterranean. 

It is with these questions that I decided to take on the Presidency of SOS MEDITERRANEE in Switzerland. For 4 years, I have been in awe at the efforts made by these few people in Europe to put an end to one of the deadliest migration crises in recent history. For 4 years, we have seen a growing increase in the need for such efforts and I strongly believe that no one should perish at sea on a makeshift boat. 

This crisis is too easily ignored, without bodies, without witnesses. Would we, as a society, react differently if we were shown the thousands of bodies lost at sea or if we passed them on our daily commute to work? Would we, the shipping industry, react differently if we were shown the thousands of bodies whose silent unmarked graves lie under the routes our ships travel?

This association between SOS MEDITERRANEE and the Commodity Trading Week is a strong symbol. It is a symbol of the awareness of a sector, of an open-mindedness. Our profession is confronted daily with cases of distress in Mediterranean waters. Let us dare to act. 

With these lines, I am launching a call for solidarity and action to the entire shipping community: Support SOS MEDITERRANEE, support Sea Rescue, join us and together let's put an end to this dramatic situation. No one should perish at sea. I know it, you know it. Let's make these words resonate in our daily activities.

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Since 2016, SOS MEDITERRANEE has acquired a great deal of expertise in search and rescue operations at sea, but, more importantly, has rescued more than 39,000 people. The presence of the Ocean Viking  at sea prevents people from drowning. The purpose of SOS MEDITERRANEE is to save as many lives as possible. Our mission has three goals: to save, to protect and to testify.

To save

Rescuing is the process of removing a person from an unsafe place, a boat in distress in our case, to a place where this person is safe and provide emergency medical support. Once these victims have been rescued and brought on board of the Ocean Viking, the second objective is to protect them until we bring them to a safe harbour.

To protect

This protection takes place during the transit phase and must be done in a respectful manner, aiming at restoring dignity through simple actions such as providing food and care, listening, and being present with a human face.

To testify

The third goal of the mission is to witness and share what we have seen and heard. The aim is to call on and raise awareness among civil society, media and political leaders to take action to end the ongoing humanitarian crisis and prevent further deaths at sea. We carry the voice of the survivors.

At each stage of its development, SOS MEDITERRANEE has made it a principle to open up and maintain dialogue with governments of the European continent in order to set up adapted rescue and disembarkation solutions. The association has thus always been able to deal with deadlock situations caused by tense political situations, without ever coming into conflict with coastal states.

Moreover, all search and rescue operations are carried out in international waters and in strict compliance with a precise legal framework (c.f. annex) and a strong maritime tradition. SOS MEDITERRANEE is grounded in the legal obligation to provide assistance to any person found in danger at sea and to deliver them to a safe place.

Its operational framework is therefore governed by the international
conventions defining the obligations of sea rescue:

International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea -SOLAS (1974)

Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue - SAR (1979)

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea - UNCLOS (1982)

Guidelines on the Treatment of Persons Rescued at Sea - IMO Resolution MSC.167(78) (2004)

The shipping industry is regularly confronted with salvage operations during its activities. Once again, the maritime world distinguishes itself by its sense of duty and solidarity and does not question the origins or destination of a vessel in distress. SOS MEDITERRANEE was built on this model and is halfway between the maritime world and the humanitarian world. Its action is based on the strict respect of maritime law, and the legal obligation to provide assistance to any person found in danger at sea.  

After almost 400 rescue operations, its teams are particularly prepared and trained for the risky situations that can be encountered at sea.

SOS MEDITERRANEE is constantly seeking opportunities to better explain its mission and activities.

It currently operates with the MV Ocean Viking, a cargo vessel originally conceived for mass rescues, as an Emergency Response and Rescue Vessel (ERRV) (a stand-by offshore vessel ready for rescuing a large number of passengers and taking care of a large number of people in case of mass casualties). It is 69.3m in length over all x 15.5m beam. Built in 1986, it gross tonnage is 2075.

It is now owned by Hoyland Offshore AS. The flag state registry is Norway. It used to be an offshore supply and rescue ship for oil and gas industry in the North Sea, mainly in the Norwegian sector.  The ship in general is very robust and stable as it was built for the harsh conditions in the North Sea. It is faster (max. speed: 14 knots) than the Aquarius and can also maneuverer quickly with bow, stern and an additional azimuth thruster under the bow. This will immensely help in the case of rescues while approaching boats in distress and maintaining position near to the vessel in distress.
It has:

  • One davit-launched fast rescue craft (FRC SOLAS);
  • Two davit-launched fast rescue boats (RHIB-type);
  • One crane-launched fast rescue boat (RHIB-type);
  • One inflatable rescue boat.

Davits allow for quick and safe deployment of rescue boats while underway. The Ocean Viking is high in the water which allows for good visibility. One can see quite far, possibly 10-12 nautical miles from the bridge to the surface of the water, which helps spotting potential boats in distress on the horizon.  This is complemented by the 360 degrees round bridge of the PV.

There are 2 radars to help us in the search and an infra-red camera picking up heat signatures which is helpful at night.
The Ocean Viking used to have a large empty aft deck.

SOS MEDITERRANEE used this space to install a container-module set up to best accommodate, provide care and protect survivors, based on their previous experience with the Aquarius. Special sea-fastening modules were installed on the aft deck. 6 containers have been cut and arranged in a way that form a large indoor space which will be used as the men’s shelter. On top of the 6 containers, another 3 have been installed and will be used as storage containers for SAR and medics equipment. Opposite the men’s shelter, there are another 2 containers on the bottom and one on the top that will also be used as storage containers.

Going towards the fore deck, after the men’s shelter, a medical module structure has been installed once again on a sea-fastening system.  

This new medical module has only been used a few times by the shipping company on other ships working around oil platforms in the North Sea. It is thus a useful and ideal space to be used as the SOS MEDITERRANEE clinic. Inside the module, modifications have been done to now include: one reception room, a doctor’s office, a medical storage room, a room with beds for patients, toilets and showers.

On the fore deck, 4 containers have been installed -one next to the other- forming another indoor space that will be the women’s shelter. On top of these containers, a brand new special “accommodation container” has been installed which includes 4 beds and a toilet/shower.

This accommodation container will be used by members of the SOS crew.  
A Reefer container may be used as a morgue if needs be.

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