A stranded migrant rescue ship used its route to send a secret message to the world

Annalisa Merelli
A heart-shaped ship route

The Ocean Viking, a Norwegian ship managed by the nonprofits Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and SOS Méditerranée, is one of several migrant and refugee rescue vessels stranded in the Mediterranean. The ship has rescued 356 people, including 103 minors—of them, only 11 accompanied. It’s been going back and forth between Malta and Sicily for 12 days as it awaits permission to dock.

This is now routine for rescue boats because Italy, by the will of its anti-immigrant minister of home affairs, Matteo Salvini, has denied the ships authorization to dock in its harbors, contravening international law. For the past several years, hundreds of thousands of people leaving from the Middle East or Africa have tried to migrate, or find asylum, in Europe. Since the border between Turkey and Greece closed, the vast majority of them have arrived through the central Mediterranean route, leaving from the coasts of Libya in hopes of reaching Sicily and, from there, the rest of Europe.

On Aug. 20, Italian authorities finally allowed another ship, Open Arms, which carried 83 people, to dock on the Italian island of Lampedusa. It had been stuck at sea for 19 days. While authorities recently allowed some of the minors on board to disembark, others jumped overboard, hoping to swim the 30 miles to Lampedusa, where many of them will likely apply for asylum. They were rescued by the Italian coast guard.

While it waited for its own safe harbor, Ocean Viking celebrated the news of Open Arms’s docking by drawing a heart in the sea. Data from the vessel’s route tracker show that between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. local time, the ship completed a heart-shaped route in the middle of the Mediterranean.

a hear-shaped ship route

Despite the joyous message, the situation on board Ocean Viking is deteriorating. And the Italian government, which is facing its own crisis, has so far refused to provide a safe place for the migrants and refugees to disembark.


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