Marseille / Berlin / Rome
Tuesday November 15th, 2016
Tragic rescue off the Libyan coasts for SOS MEDITERRANEE
114 persons rescued from a deflating rubber boat, 6 persons die at sea
The Aquarius Search And Rescue vessel run in partnership between SOS MEDITERRANEE and Médecins Sans Frontières responded on Monday November 15th afternoon to a tragic rescue situation in the Mediterranean Sea, 30 km off the coast of Libya. Six people died at sea and 114 people, all from West Africa, were rescued.
“After responding to a call from the MRCC at 11.30am the Aquarius immediately headed at full speed to the position of a rubber boat in distress,” says Mathias Menge, SOS MEDITERRANEE Search and Rescue coordinator. “We arrived at 2pm and immediately began distributing life jackets and other life-saving flotation devices. Later survivors told us that their rubber boat departed from Libya at 2am and 2 hours into their journey it began filling up with water. By the time the Aquarius arrived, their boat was filling with water and was starting to deflate. We did everything we could but unfortunately it was a tragic rescue and six people lost their lives”.
After the arrival of the Aquarius, passengers from the boat began jumping into the water, many of them shouting and clearly traumatised. One man managed to swim to the Aquarius without the aid of a life jacket. There were 24 minors, including three children under the age of 5, and 8 women on board. A mass casualty plan was initiated in response to the situation.
As soon as the SOS MEDITERRANEE rescue team arrived at the rubber boat they noticed a young boy face down in the water and managed to pull him on board one of the rescue boats.
“The young boy from Cameroon, estimated to be 10 years old, was unconscious after inhaling fuel and sea water,” says Sarah Giles, MSF doctor on board the Aquarius. “Thankfully he was rescued in time and brought on board for urgent medical attention. He was unconscious for two hours but we managed to stabilise the patient so that he could be evacuated. Today was a tough day and the medical team worked hard to treat many people in desperate need of medical care ”.
After arriving on deck many people were traumatized, covered in fuel and crying. They were immensely grateful to have been rescued. Tragically five people were found dead in the rubber boat; their bodies were recovered and are now on board the Aquarius. Unfortunately one person drowned in the sea but the body could not be recovered.
At 7.30pm the young boy and his caretaker, a woman who had also inhaled fuel and sea water, were medically evacuated on a helicopter operated by the Italian coast guard. Other patients are being treated for hypothermia, fuel inhalation and significant fuel burns.
“Nobody should be exposed to such conditions at sea,” says Menge. “Today’s tragedy highlights the dangers of crossing the Mediterranean Sea and the necessity to maintain a Search and Rescue capacity throughout the winter.”
Present at sea since February 2016, SOS MEDITERRANEE is urgently calling the European States to deploy an adequate Search and Rescue capability in the Mediterranean Sea.
Photo credit: Susanne Friedel