SOS MEDITERRANEE and MSF call on European governments to assign place of safety after rescues
Press Release Amsterdam / Berlin / Geneva / Palermo / Marseille, 12 August 2018
12 August 2018 – Responding to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Central Mediterranean, a total of 141 people were rescued on Friday by the search and rescue vessel Aquarius, chartered by SOS MEDITERRANEE and operated in partnership with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Both organisations are now calling upon European governments to assign the closest place of safety in accordance with International Maritime Law so that people rescued at sea can be disembarked and Aquarius can continue providing urgently needed humanitarian assistance.
At 11:50 AM local time on Friday morning, the Aquarius rescued 25 people found adrift on a small wooden boat with no engine on board. It is believed they had been at sea for nearly 35 hours. Just hours later, the Aquarius performed a second rescue of 116 men, women and children, including 67 unaccompanied minors, found on an overcrowded wooden boat. More than 70% of those rescued originate from Somalia and Eritrea. While the medical condition of those rescued is stable for now, many are extremely weak and malnourished. Many report that they were held in inhumane conditions in Libya.
During both rescue operations, the Aquarius informed all relevant authorities of its activities, including the Italian, Maltese, and Tunisian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCCs), as well as the Libyan Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC), who confirmed it was the coordinating authority for the rescues. The Libyan JRCC informed the Aquarius that it would not provide a place of safety and instructed Aquarius to request a place of safety from another RCC. As such, the Aquarius is now heading north to request the closest place of safety from another RCC.
“We are now following the instructions of the JRCC and will duly contact other RCCs for a place of safety to disembark the rescued people we have on board”, said Nick Romaniuk, Search and Rescue Coordinator for SOS MEDITERRANEE. “What is of utmost importance is that the survivors are brought to a place of safety without delay, where their basic needs can be met and where they can be protected from abuse.”
“European governments have put all their efforts into propping up the Libyan JRCC, however Friday’s events show that they do not have the capacity to fully coordinate a rescue,” said Aloys Vimard, MSF’s Project Coordinator onboard Aquarius. “A rescue is not complete until there is disembarkation in a place of safety. The Libyan JRCC clearly told us they would not provide this. Additionally they did not inform Aquarius of boats in distress which they were aware of, despite the fact we were in the vicinity and offered our assistance. It was extremely fortunate that we spotted these boats in distress ourselves.”
In a disturbing development, rescued people on board told our teams that they encountered five different ships which did not offer them assistance before they were rescued by Aquarius. “It seems the very principle of rendering assistance to persons in distress at sea is now at stake. Ships might be unwilling to respond to those in distress due to the high risk of being stranded and denied a place of safety. Policies designed to prevent people from reaching Europe at all costs are resulting in more suffering and even riskier journeys to safety for people who are already highly vulnerable” said Vimard.
SOS MEDITERRANEE and MSF remain extremely concerned about European policies that hinder the provision of humanitarian assistance and which have resulted in a skyrocketing number of deaths at sea in recent months. The Aquarius is now one of only two remaining humanitarian search and rescue vessels on the Central Mediterranean. The criminalisation and obstruction of humanitarian organisations reflects the larger problem of a broken European asylum system and the failure of the EU member states to relocate asylum seekers who arrive in Europe.
SOS MEDITERRANEE and MSF call again on all European governments and their relevant maritime rescue authorities to recognise the gravity of the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean and grant quick access to the nearest place of safety and to facilitate, instead of impede, much needed lifesaving humanitarian assistance in the Central Mediterranean.
For immediate release.
Credits: Guglielmo Mangiapane / SOS MEDITERRANEE. For editorial use only, no commercial use.
SOS MEDITERRANEE is a European organization for the rescue of people in distress at sea. It was founded in 2015 and launched its rescue operations in February 2016. Since then, the organization has, together with its medical partner Doctors Without Borders (MSF), assisted 29.459 people. In 2017, SOS MEDITERRANEE has received the UNESCO Peace Prize. The non-profit organization based in France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland is exclusively funded by donations.