SOS MEDITERRANEE was founded in 2015 by citizens willing and eager to mobilise a response to the tragedy unfolding in the Central Mediterranean Sea. Since 2014, more than 22 000 lives have been lost at sea (IOM, 2021). This figure does not take into account the thousands of men, women and children who died without witnesses, victims of what is known as invisible shipwrecks, escaping all statistics.


Message from the President of SOS, Richard Watts

Since its creation, SOS MEDITERRANEE has been committed to safer seas and to the respect of maritime law by coastal states. The situation at sea is as dramatic as ever, and the most basic rights are too often violated but SOS MEDITERRANNEE has performed over 300 rescue operations and saved over 37,000 lives,.

It seems impossible to me that such noble action could ever be criticized but we only have to read a newspaper to head about people’s disdain for these actions. How, in 2022, in just one year, could more than 2 000 people have lost their lives in these seas that allow us to carry on our trade? How can the sea that we rely on for our daily business be the source of death and terror for thousands of women, children and men for so many years? These seas that we visit on holiday with our family in the summer months. The Mediterranean.

It is with these questions that I decided to take on the Presidency of SOS MEDITERRANEE in Switzerland. For 3 years, I have been in awe at the efforts made by these few people in Europe to put an end to one of the deadliest migration crises in recent history. For 3 years, we have seen a growing increase in the need for such efforts and I strongly believe that no one should perish at sea on a makeshift boat.

This crisis is too easily ignored, without bodies, without witnesses. Would we, as a society, react differently if we were shown the thousands of bodies lost at sea? Would we, the shipping industry, react differently if we were shown the thousands of bodies whose silent unmarked graves lie under the routes our ships travel?

This association between SOS MEDITERRANEE and the Commodity Trading Week is a strong symbol. It is a symbol of the awareness of a sector, of an open-mindedness. Our profession is confronted daily with cases of distress in Mediterranean waters. Let us dare to act.

With these lines, I am launching a call for solidarity and action to the entire shipping community: Support SOS MEDITERRANEE, support Sea Rescue, join us and together let's put an end to this dramatic situation. No one should perish at sea. I know it, you know it. Let's make these words resonate in our daily activities.

– Richard Watts, President, SOS Mediterranee

As a response to this situation,  the association has chartered an Search & Rescue ambulance ship (the Aquarius from February 2016 to December 2018, then the Ocean Viking since July 2019), recruited a team of professional sea rescuers as well as a medical team and conducted 283 rescue operations so far.

Since 2016, SOS MEDITERRANEE has acquired a great deal of expertise in search and rescue operations at sea, but, more importantly, has rescued 32’947 people. Our presence at sea prevents people from drowning.

The objective of SOS MEDITERRANEE is to bring help to as many people as possible and 3 elements are at the heart of their mission:

To Save

Rescuing is the process of removing a person from an unsafe place, a boat in distress in our case, to a place where this person is safe and provide emergency medical support.

To Protect

This protection takes place during the transit phase and must be done in a respectful manner, aiming at restoring dignity through simple actions such as providing food and care, listening, and being present with a human face.

To Testify

The third goal of the mission is to witness and share what they have seen and heard. The aim is to call on and raise awareness among civil society, media and political leaders to take action to end the ongoing humanitarian crisis and prevent further deaths at sea.


Since August 2019 they have been chartering the Ocean Viking, a vessel designed for mass rescues. Built in 1986, it was first used as an emergency response and rescue vessel, a standby vessel ready to rescue large numbers of passengers and take care of large numbers of people in case of mass casualties.

SOS MEDITERRANEE fitted out the large aft deck of the Ocean Viking and installed a container module to accommodate, care for and protect the survivors, based on its previous experience with the Aquarius.

Six containers were cut up and arranged to form a large interior space which is used as a shelter for the survivors. Above this, 3 other containers have been installed and are used as storage for the equipment of the rescue and medical teams.

Moving towards the foredeck, after the shelter for the survivors, a medical module structure has been installed. Inside this clinic: a reception room, a consultation room, a medicine storage room, a room with beds for patients, toilets and showers. A refrigerated container has also been installed and can be used as a morgue if necessary.

At each stage of its development, SOS MEDITERRANEE has had the principle of seeking to open a dialogue with the governments of the European continent in order to put in place appropriate rescue and disembarkation solutions. In this way, the association has always been able to deal with blockages caused by tense political situations, without ever entering into conflict with the coastal states.

Furthermore, all search and rescue operations are carried out in international waters and in strict compliance with a precise legal framework and a long-standing maritime tradition. SOS MEDITERRANEE is based on the legal obligation to provide assistance to any person in peril at sea and to disembark them in a safe place.

Its operational framework is therefore governed by the international conventions defining the obligations of rescue at sea:

  • International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea –SOLAS (1974)
  • Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue – SAR (1979)
  • United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea – UNCLOS (1982)
  • Guidelines on the treatment of persons rescued at sea (MSC.167 (78)) – (2004)


On board the Ocean Viking, 22 people are under contract with SOS MEDITERRANEE. They are rescuers, doctors, midwives, photographers… Since the beginning of its operations, SOS MEDITERRANEE only wants to employ experienced professionals and is committed to training them for mass rescue in difficult conditions. Thus, our rescuers and medical staff receive intensive training throughout the year, before, during and after their missions


Each association has a Board of Directors, which is responsible for the smooth running of the association. Financial and human resources are pooled by the network to ensure the rescue activity. In addition, each association is responsible for public awareness and resource mobilisation activities in its own country. The Swiss team consists of 7 people.

As a testimony to its high organisational and operational standards, SOS MEDITERRANEE has been awarded the following recognitions and prizes Schwarzkopf Europe Award, Media Prize 2017, UNESCO Peace Prize 2017 and nominated as a finalist for the Aurora Prize 2020.

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