The offshore vessel Siem Pilot has spent the past two years patrolling the waters of the Mediterranean and rescuing thousands of desperate refugees from drowning. It returned to Norway on Thursday, when the country was otherwise celebrating the Ascension Day public holiday.
The vessel, which was built to serve offshore oil platforms, wound up being chartered to the Norwegian government as its contribution to the EU’s refugee rescue and border patrol effort known as Frontex. Newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad reported that the Siem Pilot plucked up 34,278 people fleeing Northern Africa in rickety boats or overfilled inflatable rafts. Fully 99 of them were dead.
The vessel sailed from Sicily on May 14 when its tour of duty ended, and tied up at Randaberg near Stavanger on Thursday. Crew members on board were busy cleaning the vessel and also ridding it of weapons stored on board.
“We needed them because of the uncertain situation in the Mediterranean,” Jørgen Berg, chief of the forces on board the vessel, told Stavanger Aftenblad. “As far as I know, though, no shots were ever fired during these past two years. I’m not aware of the weapons ever being used, but just this week there was shooting from what could have been a Libyan coast guard vessel against other rescue vessels. We know we’re operating against strong criminal networks (of human smugglers), so it was important to be able to protect ourselves.”
The Siem Pilot is now being replaced by another Norwegian vessel, the Olympic Commander, in the EU border patrol and rescue effort. The vessel Peter Henry von Koss has also been helping to save migrants from drowning after fleeing poverty and persecution in countries like Somalia and Eritrea, in hopes of better lives in Europe.