158 people, including many children, rescued from an overcrowded rubber boat off Libyan coast

Press release                                                             Berlin/ Geneva/ Marseille/ Palermo, 1 June 2018

SOS MEDITERRANEE urges Europe to prioritise protection of human lives over political considerations

On Thursday, the Aquarius, chartered by SOS MEDITERRANEE and operated in partnership with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), rescued 158 women, men and children from an overcrowded rubber boat in distress in international waters off the coast of Libya.

The dinghy was discovered on Thursday morning by SOS MEDITERRANEE’s rescue team 25 nautical miles north of Al Khoms, east of Tripoli. The Aquarius immediately informed the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (IMRCC) about the boat in distress, and the Aquarius was then instructed to proceed to rescue.

158 people – including 26 women, 9 children, and a total of 36 unaccompanied minors – were rescued and placed under the care of the MSF medical staff aboard the Aquarius. Although most of them show signs of exhaustion, dehydration and sunburns – all direct consequences of their dangerous journey at sea – no major medical cases have been reported.

The majority of the rescued, according to Aquarius’ volunteers, were victims of violence, ill-treatment, arbitrary detention and extortion in Libya.

On Thursday evening, without having reached full capacity, the Aquarius was instructed by the Italian authorities to proceed to the designated port of safety, Pozzallo, in the South of Sicily, to disembark the rescued people. The Aquarius can accommodate more than 500 people for 2 to 4 days, and is currently the only NGO rescue vessel in the Search and Rescue (SAR) area.

“We left the SAR zone seriously worried that more boats may depart from the shores due to the good weather conditions and may then end up in distress. With us as the only NGO rescue ship in the area, now also absent, these boats may not be discovered and rescued in time. This could result in tragedies which we may never know about, and that are entirely avoidable through coherent use of the few rescue assets patrolling the area”, said Loic Glavany, SAR Coordinator of SOS MEDITERRANEE aboard the Aquarius.

Similarly, one week ago, 69 people were transferred from an Italian navy ship onto the Aquarius, and in spite of weather conditions conducive to departures and multiple boats already reported to be in distress, the Aquarius received instructions from the Italian authorities to swiftly leave the SAR-zone and to proceed north for disembarkation.

“The rubber boat rescued by the Aquarius on Thursday was dangerously overcrowded, carrying 158 people including many children. This is a sign of a persisting humanitarian crisis and instability in Libya that forces people to escape by sea, despite the very obvious risks on the deadliest maritime route in the world. This is a reality that Europe can no longer ignore. The fact that there are fewer NGO vessels in the area to bear witness of the extent of this human drama will not make it any less real”, said Sophie Beau, co-founder of SOS MEDITERRANEE and vice president of SOS MEDITERRANEE.

“Once again, we urge the European authorities to deploy adequate rescue means and to prioritise the protection of human lives over any political considerations”, said Sophie Beau.


For immediate press release.

Press contacts:

International: Mathilde Auvillain/ +39 347 328 2412 / m.auvillain@sosmediterranee.org
France: Laura Garel / +33 634 395 818 / j.begin@sosmediterranee.org
Germany: Jana Ciernioch / +49 30 2205 6811  / j.ciernioch@sosmediterranee.org
Italy: Barbara Amodeo / +39 351 208 35 68 / b.amodeo@sosmediterranee.org
Switzerland: Julie Melichar / +41 7647 399 94 j.melichar@sosmediterranee.org