NGO restarts Mediterranean migrant rescues despite virus fears

Berlin (AFP) –


The Alan Kurdi migrant rescue boat is heading back out into the Mediterranean after a two-month break despite the coronavirus pandemic, according to the German organisation that operates it.

The boat has already left port in Spain where it had been undergoing repairs and is expected to reach waters off the coast of Libya this weekend, NGO Sea Eye said in a statement on Monday evening.

Led by German captain Baerbel Beuse, the Alan Kurdi will be the only rescue boat operating in the area, the NGO said.

Due to the spread of COVID-19, Sea Eye is taking extra security precautions and has established an "outbreak management plan", according to mission manager Jan Ribbeck.

"We have sufficient personal protective equipment for our crew on board," he said.

Sea rescue operations currently face great difficulties finding a safe harbour, according to Sea Eye.

Italy, the most common destination for rescue boats, has been ravaged more than any other country by the coronavirus, with more than 100,000 confirmed cases and 11,000 deaths.

Border closures have also prevented other NGOs from mobilising staff from across Europe for rescue missions, Sea Eye said.

"It is a miracle that we were able to put together a crew, train them and prepare them for the special circumstances," said Gordon Isler, chairman of Sea Eye.

Two other rescue boats, the Ocean Viking run by the NGO SOS Mediterranee and the Spanish Open Arms vessel, are currently still in port.

In 2019, the International Organization for Migration recorded 1,283 deaths in the Mediterranean, with the route between North Africa and Italy the deadliest.

At least 19,164 migrants are estimated to have died at sea in the last five years.