Civic sea rescuers reaching their limits: SOS MEDITERRANEE rescues 731 refugees, other organizations also operating non-stop
On Friday, the crew aboard the Aquarius rescued hundreds of refugees from drowning in a rescue operation lasting several hours. The challenging operation took more than 13 hours, but 731 refugees could successfully be saved from four dinghies and two wooden boats. Among them 116 children and teenagers. It was during the night from Thursday onto Friday that the Aquarius received the first distress call from the MRCC in Rome, instructing the crew to initiate rescue efforts in international waters. According to the MRCC, at times more than 20 boats were simultaneously in acute distress. Some of the boats were damaged and sank and some refugees were already in the water.
“We are witnessing the absence of an official marine rescue program here in the Mediterranean and regularly reach our limits as civilian rescuers. 13-hour operations like yesterday are no longer isolated cases,” said Timon Marszalek, Director of SOS MEDITERRANEE Germany e.V., currently aboard the Aquarius.
At about 7 pm, the last refugee was safely on board and the mission completed. Some of the survivors reported that armed groups had forced them onto the boats on the beach in Libya. A Moroccan refugee who had lived in Libya for a long time said that she had fled because she had refused to marry a Libyan man who then threatened her severely. Another woman reported that she had fled from Libya with her three babies, after her husband had been abducted and she had to fear for the lives of her children. Both women said they were very afraid of crossing the Mediterranean, but ultimately saw no other way.
Thanks to the professional collaboration with Save the Children, two mothers and their children were reunited. During the complicated rescue efforts, they had been rescued by two different teams and were finally brought back together. The Italian Coast Guard, who also took several hundred people on board, thanked SOS MEDITERRANEE for their excellent cooperation, following completion of the operation.
The MSF medical team on board Aquarius treated, amongst others, 30 people for external burns, resulting from contact with gasoline and seawater. Some of the refugees were treated for injuries, which, according to their own statements, were the result of mistreatment in Libya. “I had no idea of the crossing, I did not know how far Italy is and I did not care. I risked my life to escape Libya,” explained one survivor aboard the Aquarius.
Without the presence of the civilian sea rescuers, many more people would die during the dangerous crossing to Europe. Therefore, SOS MEDITERRANEE calls on all European institutions and heads of state to provide the necessary means to save lives on the high seas, necessary to avoid any further loss of human life.
Photo credits: Kenny Karpov/ SOS MEDITERRANEE.