“SOS MEDITERRANEE expresses its solidarity to the rescuers of Open Arms, worried of yet another step in the criminalization of solidarity at sea”

Press release
Berlin / Geneva / Palermo / Marseille 21.03.2018

Today 21 March, the Aquarius, chartered by SOS MEDITERRANEE and operated in partnership with Doctors without Borders, is sailing back to the Search and Rescue (SAR) zone following her regular port call. The Aquarius will be the only NGO ship active at sea after the NGO ProActiva’s Open Arms ship was seized by Italian authorities in Pozzallo, reducing an already insufficient capacity of life-saving SAR resources available on the deadliest maritime migratory route in the world. The last events related to the Search and Rescue NGO “ProActiva Open Arms” are highly concerning for life-saving activities in the central Mediterranean Sea, which will result in only more deaths at sea.

Following the seizure of Open Arms, only one NGO asset left at sea

Search and Rescue NGOs have been working in an environment of increasingly scarce assets and challenging security, facing one of the most tragic humanitarian crises unfolding at the doorstep of Europe. For months, SOS MEDITERRANEE has been working alongside ProActiva in the SAR zone in international waters off the coast of Libya. All winter, the Open Arms and the Aquarius have been the only active NGO ships to continuously conduct Search and Rescue at sea, combining resources in several instances in order to save lives under the coordination of Italian MRCC. After the seizure of the Open Arms ship on Sunday 18th of March, SOS MEDITERRANEE is now the only Search and Rescue-dedicated ship to patrol in the SAR zone, which is clearly not enough compared to the needs.

Increase of intercepted boats in distress brought back to Libya

In several instances in the past months, the Aquarius has witnessed more and more boats in distress intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard in international waters. Rescued people on the Aquarius have repeatedly testified that Libyan Coast Guards’ interceptions increase the risks of shipwrecks and drownings. Moreover, as a result of these interceptions, families have been separated and people returned to the same “Libyan hell” they were seeking to escape.

The Libyan Coast Guard, in the meantime, does not belong to a Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, and no Libyan Search and Rescue zone was ever legally established by the relevant International Maritime Organization (IMO). Furthermore, in Libya, no port can be considered as a port of safety as required by the international maritime law for the completion of a rescue.

SOS MEDITERRANEE calls on the European states to ensure transparent, lawful, safe and enhanced life-saving activities at sea

Since the beginning of its mission at sea, SOS MEDITERRANEE has constantly renewed its appeal for the European Union to provide resources specifically dedicated to Search and Rescue in the area. In the meantime, SOS MEDITERRANEE faces increasingly complex operations in a context in which professionalism, security and safety are of major importance. At several occasions in the past weeks, confusion in the coordination of rescues in the SAR zone has seriously jeopardized the safety of people in distress and of Search and Rescue teams.

“The seizure of Open Arms and criminal investigations launched against ProActiva Open Arms are a very concerning development related to life-saving activities in the central Mediterranean. SOS MEDITERRANEE expresses its solidarity to the rescuers of Open Arms, worried of yet another step in the criminalization of solidarity at sea. Today, the Aquarius is the only rescue ship present in the Central Mediterranean. Until when? ”, said Sophie Beau, vice-president of SOS MEDITERRANEE.


For immediate release.
For further information please contact:

International: Mathilde Auvillain / m.auvillain@sosmediterranee.org
France: Julie Bégin / j.begin@sosmediterranee.org
Germany: Juliane Tetzlaff / j.tetzlaff@sosmediterranee.org
Italy: Barbara Amodeo / b.amodeo@sosmediterranee.org
Switzerland: Caroline Abu-SaDa / c.abu-sada@sosmediterranee.org