New rescue ship dispatched to save migrants off the coast of Libya

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Humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee on Sunday dispatched its new rescue ship Ocean Viking from the French port of Marseille.

It’s on its first mission to save migrants off the coast of Libya.

The Ocean Viking, displaying the red and white colors of its new Norwegian flag, is expected to reach the central Mediterranean in two to three days.

It is replacing the group’s previous ship, the Aquarius, which ceased operations last year after it was banned from landing migrants in several European ports following nearly three years of operations and the rescue of 30,000 migrants at sea.

Funded in partnership with Doctors Without Borders, the Ocean Viking has 31 people on board to deal with rescue operations, including crew, maritime rescuers, doctors, a midwife and a cultural mediator.

However the Ocean Viking will not enter into Libyans waters, the rescue group said.

Civil society rescue operators say they face increasingly hostile reactions from some EU states which are resisting taking in rescued migrants. Only a few civilian rescue vessels are still operating in the Mediterranean.

EU states disagree on how to handle the migrants and some are taking a more hard-line position, turning away rescue ships as they seek to dock to drop off rescued migrants.

Libya caught up in civil conflict since the 2011 uprising that killed Dictator Muammar Gaddafi, remains a major and dangerous transit route for mostly sub-Saharan migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe.

The UN migrant agency says at least 840 people have gone missing so far this year trying to cross from Libya’s coast to reach Europe, most of them in the central Mediterranean.

On Sunday, a German charity disembarked 40 migrants in Malta it had picked up off Libya on Wednesday. Italy refused them permission to dock their ships in their ports.

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