Skip to main content

Ocean Viking - Cooperation between SOS MEDITERRANEE and IFRC for Search and Rescue and Post-Rescue Assistance and Relief

Repositorio de Prácticas

Ocean Viking - Cooperation between SOS MEDITERRANEE and IFRC for Search and Rescue and Post-Rescue Assistance and Relief

Primary GCM Objectives

Principios Rectores del Pacto Mundial para la Migración*

*All practices are to uphold the ten guiding principles of the GCM. This practice particularly exemplifies these listed principles.

Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible (ODS)


2021 - Presente

Tipo de práctica


Geographic Scope


The Central Mediterranean Sea is the deadliest known migration route in the world, with more than 20,000 lives lost between 2014 and 2022. This is due to the length of the journey across the sea, the very limited regular pathways to migrate to Europe, increasingly dangerous smuggling patterns, and restriction and obstruction of the lifesaving work of NGOs. On their journeys to Europe, migrants and displaced persons are exposed to human rights violations, human trafficking, violence, slavery, forced labour, abuse, and exploitation. Women, children, and the elderly are especially at risk as they embark on these dangerous journeys. The search and rescue (SAR) NGO, SOS MEDITERRANEE, was founded in 2015 and has, as of August 2023, rescued over 38,847 migrants in distress in the Central Mediterranean, through 322 rescue operations. In August 2021, SOS MEDITERRANEE began a partnership with IFRC to complement its SAR activities with a “Humanitarian Service Point at sea” to provide relief, protection and health services to rescued people. The SAR operations save the lives of thousands of people crossing the Central Mediterranean Sea every year. The partnership with IFRC allows the additional provision of relief and protection to rescued people. On board the Ocean Viking, a team of 25 people from SOS MEDITERRANEE and IFRC/National Societies run the SAR and post-rescue assistance operations. The latter includes health and mental health services, provision of food and non-food items, psychosocial activities to reduce stress and harmful behaviours (for example dance, music and yoga), information sessions (covering topics that include protection mechanisms and Italy’s asylum system ) and restoring family links services (including the SALAMAT service through which rescued people can inform their loved ones that they are alive and on their way to a place of safety). Detection of vulnerabilities, together with the identification of protection risks and needs, is another crucial activity conducted on board. Among other things, it facilitates referrals to post-disembarkation services provided by humanitarian actors onshore, such as the Italian Red Cross. All support extended to survivors adheres to a Protection, Gender, and Inclusion approach, underpinned by the fundamental "do no harm" principle. In addition, onshore, the IFRC has dedicated communications and humanitarian diplomacy resources supporting the project in terms of both public-facing communications (messaging, media) and advocacy to states and EU institutions. In this partnership, SOS Med and IFRC/National Societies team members are not simply working side by side on separate parts of the operations. They are working together, integrated in the same teams, to provide post-rescue medical care and assistance. SOS MEDITERRANEE is funded by private donations, with small grants from French local authorities and the German government. IFRC provides significant financial support for the Ocean Viking.

Other partner organizations include National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Hong Kong, Japan, Kuwait, Monaco, the Netherlands, Sweden, the UK and the USA.


Principales organizaciones implementadoras

SOS Mediterranée
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)

Des informations détaillées


Organizaciones asociadas/donantes

National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Beneficio e impacto

As mentioned above, as of August 2023, over 38,800 people have been rescued by SOS MEDITERRANEE since 2016. Between 17 September 2021 and 15 September August 2023, IFRC and participating Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies took part in 89 rescues on board the Ocean Viking, during which 4841 people (including 4301 men and 540 women) were rescued. Over the duration of the IFRC partnership with SOS MEDITERRANEE, the Ocean Viking has rescued 1509 children (1328 boys and 181 girls), among them 1245 unaccompanied.

Before the law changed in Italy in February 2023, it could sometimes take days for the Ocean Viking to find a place of safety to disembark rescued people. When that happened, rescued people became stranded at sea, (as was the case between 22 October and 10 November 2022, for example), exhausted, dehydrated, in psychological distress and some required immediate medical attention. In such circumstances, the humanitarian services provided on board the Ocean Viking become even more essential to keep rescued people alive while awaiting disembarkation.

The partnership with IFRC complements search and rescue operations with post-rescue humanitarian assistance and relief. After rescuing migrants, the humanitarian services on board, including medical and psychosocial support, can be life-saving in a slightly less direct sense: they contribute to restoring migrants’ dignity by providing individual assistance immediately and planning for continuity of care based on their specific needs and circumstances (women and children’s specific needs are taken into account with specific activities and support provided onboard and organised ashore).

There is no initial end date to this practice as needs continue to exist in the Central Mediterranean Sea. The partnership is financed until February 2024.

Lecciones clave

There are multiple challenges during implementation, as highlighted by key informants interviewed. They include the lack of European Union (EU)-coordinated search and rescue mechanisms, the criminalisation of search and rescue organisations, increasingly restrictive regulatory environments, whereby secondary rescues are restricted and unnecessarily distant ports of safety are assigned to large NGO rescue vessels, significant penalties for non-compliance including fines and detention of the ship , and increasingly aggressive coast guard tactics resulting in risks for the safety of the crew and survivors. Another challenge relates to the provision of referrals on land for rescued people in need of specific services after disembarkation. As Ocean Viking disembarks rescued people in different places of safety at the end of every rotation, it is increasingly difficult to find and contact relevant organisations in advance every time. Being assigned distant ports also reduces the impact of the operations, as it reduces the length of time spent at sea conducting search and rescue operations while increasing the time spent in transit to the port of disembarkation. While it is slightly less complex regarding medical needs, referrals for continuity of care related to specific protection needs are hard to implement. The teams have therefore decided to pilot a new system: to complement the direct referrals made to humanitarian organisations present at disembarkation (Italian Red Cross, UNHCR, Save the Children), rescued people are also given a “self-referral” form which includes relevant information about their needs which they can show at disembarkation or in reception facilities to ensure a proper follow-up. Finally, accessing sustainable funding is another significant challenge highlighted by key informants interviewed.

Recomendaciones(para replicar)

As explained below, this practice is not easily replicable outside of the Central Mediterranean Sea. However, the lessons learnt shared by key informants focused on the cooperation side of the activities. For the cooperation to be successful, it is recommended that the partners bring complementary skills and knowledge (mass search and rescue from SOS Méditerrannée and humanitarian assistance and protection, including Restoring Family Links expertise from the IFRC/National Societies, for example), agree to constantly adapt the operations to evolving contexts and needs, and agree on shared implementation guidelines, approaches and advocacy goals.

For example, both partners share the advocacy objective of the United Nations recognising the Central Mediterranean as a “humanitarian space” where a humanitarian crisis is unfolding. This would trigger a humanitarian response that would be commensurate with the level of needs, with UN agencies such as OCHA, UNICEF, WHO, and UNFPA, among others, getting involved. It would allow for a Humanitarian Response Plan to be drawn up and for funding to be available from agencies such as ECHO, DFID, etc. However, to date, the crisis in the Mediterranean has mostly been construed as a migration crisis requiring national and regional level migration management policies rather than humanitarian and civil protection responses.


A couple of innovative aspects were identified by key informants interviewed: first, how SOS MEDITERRANEE used its extensive experience in maritime rescues to develop specific mass maritime rescue techniques. Second, both partners are working together in a very “integrated” manner: the teams are composed of members from both organisations, and they collectively developed joint “care guidelines” that are an adaptation of each organisation’s own guidelines and SOPs relating to post-rescue protection and care activities. During the previous partnership with Médecins sans Frontières, each organisation worked according to their own guidelines. The development and implementation of such joint guidelines is innovative in the humanitarian sector.

Fecha Enviado:

14 November 2023

*Todas las referencias a Kosovo deben entenderse en el contexto de la Resolución 1244 [1999] del Consejo de Seguridad de las Naciones Unidas.