On Thursday, the rescue vessel Ocean Viking, operated by SOS Mediterranee, found the wreckage of a rubber boat northeast of Tripoli. The Europe-bound craft was carrying around 130 travelers who are presumed lost at sea. The Ocean Viking found no survivors at the scene, though they did find ten bodies, presumed to have been travelers on the boat.
“We are heartbroken. We think of the lives that have been lost and of the families who might never have certainty as to what happened to their loved ones,” said SOS Mediterranee in a statement on Thursday. The group, which responds to SOS calls on the Mediterranean, had received distress signals from boats bound from Libya to Europe.
The Ocean Viking, responding to the distress calls, was some ten hours away by boat when the call was issued. As such, by the time they arrived on the scene, it was too late for them to help. According to the vessel, the Mediterranean was experiencing extremely choppy seas and inclement weather.
Travelers from Libya often use the port of Tripoli to make their way into Europe. African and Middle Eastern immigrants looking to start a new life in Europe often take small, smuggler-run boats out of the port with the intention of making their way to a Southern European country, like Italy. The smugglers who run the boats infamously will cram large numbers of travelers into small, rubber boats for the journey north.
So far, in 2021 alone, some 350 people have been lost at sea in these kinds of vessels.
Groups like SOS Mediterranee have blamed the governments of states surrounding the Mediterranean for leaving the smuggler-run boats to meet their fates. “States abandon their responsibility to coordinate Search and Rescue operations, leaving private actors and civil society to fill the deadly void they leave behind,” the group stated.
According to activist groups, the vessel could have been saved had government-run boats from Europe or Libya been dispatched to help. Instead, they accuse the governments of allowing the travelers to die at sea, leaving the rescue operation in the hands of the private sector.
While Libyan authorities and Europe have coordinated to make crossing into Europe from Libya more difficult, rights groups say this has only put immigrants in the palm of dangerous smugglers and criminal groups. This situation hasn’t cut back on immigration, it has only made immigrants less safe as they make their way to Europe.