The German rescue ship Alan Kurdi has set sail for a new Mediterranean mission after delays caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Repairs were delayed after shipyard workers were confined to their homes and travel bans caused difficulties in bringing the crew from across Europe to the east coast of Spain, where the ship was moored.
The Alan Kurdi will arrive at the Libyan search and rescue zone this weekend where it will be the only civilian rescue ship operating, said Sea-Eye, the German charity that operates the vessel. It said it had taken extra precautions to prevent an outbreak of Covid-19 on board the ship.
“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, the charity’s chairman.
The mission comes after the European Union halted a naval operation aimed at enforcing an arms embargo on Libya following criticisms from Italy that ships were being used to pick up migrants from the sea.
The UN sounded the alarm this month after a wooden boat carrying 49 migrants was returned to Libya after becoming stranded in Maltese waters when its engine stopped working.
The International Organisation for Migration said the return represented an apparent breach of maritime law and urged the EU to end the practice of returning vulnerable people to Libya.
It has said the coronavirus pandemic could have grim consequences for Libya, where continued fighting takes its toll on health services.
More than 3,500 people have sought to take the sea route to Europe to escape civil war in Libya during 2020, according to IOM figures, with more than 150 dying in the process.
Since 2014, more than 20,000 people have died in the Mediterranean.
They include Alan Kurdi, a Syrian boy. The photograph of his lifeless body on a Turkish beach in 2015 focused global attention on the plight of refugees.