The Aquarius returns to sea, ready to save lives after technical and strategic upgrades in Marseille

Press Release                                                                                  Marseille, 01 August 2018

Back at sea: After major adjustments made 
to address an uncertain context, the Aquarius returns as one of the last humanitarian ships left in the Central Mediterranean to rescue and testify, with strong support from the European civil society. 

MARSEILLE, 01 August 2018 – Two and a half years ago after setting sail for the first time from the port of Marseille, the rescue vessel Aquarius, chartered by SOS MEDITERRANEE and operated in partnership with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), is going back at sea on the 1st of August 2018.

Despite a radical shift in the operational context for humanitarian interventions in the Mediterranean, the Aquarius operations are driven by the same conviction that there is no alternative to saving lives in distress at sea, and by the same principle rooted in maritime tradition that no human being should be left drowning at sea

Since it first left the port of Marseille in February 2016, the Aquarius rescued 29.318 men, women and children from drowning, of which 2.979 in 2018.

“The humanitarian tragedy at sea is still ongoing at our doorstep, but the failure of the EU in addressing it is under our eyes: Over 1,100 people died in the Central Mediterranean since early 2018. Nearly two-thirds of these deaths – 721 – occurred since June, when civil rescue assets were prevented from operating in the international waters off the coast of Libya,” said Frédéric Penard, Directer of Operations of SOS MEDITERRANEE

Recent developments are of major concern, such as the recognition of the Libyan Joint Rescue Coordination Center (JRCC) by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) at the end of June, the closure of the nearest European ports to SAR NGOs, the incoherent conclusions of the last European Council summit and the absence of concrete plans at a European level which have left NGO ships with uncertainty. For the first time in over two years of uninterrupted search and rescue operations at sea off the Libyan shores, the Aquarius had to stop at a port for an extended period of time, in order to adapt strategically and technically to this radical shift in the context.

Transparency, legal and technical adjustments to face new context at sea  

As the Aquarius returns to sea today, the operational framework remains firmly based on the following fundamental maritime principles: Rescue at sea is a legal obligation, rescue operations at sea are coordinated by a competent MRCC, rescues have to be conducted as fast and efficiently as possible by all available boats, and the survivors have to be disembarked in the nearest safe port. As long as Libya cannot qualify as a place of safety, the Aquarius will never disembark any rescued person in Libyan ports. All these principles have been reasserted after consultation with legal experts, prior to departure.

Transparency has always been crucial to the Aquarius mission. The ship now returns to sea as a “civil sentinel in the Mediterranean”. An online logbook is to be launched upon departure of the ship and it will be fully accessible to the public on and updated live. It will document all activities of the Aquarius in the Central Mediterranean.

To address the increased complexity of rescue operations, the Aquarius has also been technically upgraded. It has been equipped with a new RHIB (rigid-hulled inflatable boat) to allow for more efficiency and capacity during rescue operations. In response to potential standoffs and more days at sea before disembarkations, food autonomy has been increased and a refrigerated container for deceased persons has been installed to respect their dignity.

“Humanitarian missions, like the one on the Aquarius, were deployed in the Central Mediterranean in 2016, driven by the fundamental principle rooted in maritime tradition that no human being should be left drowning at sea. This superior duty of seafarers is not questionable, ever, and we will not negotiate it”, recalls Frédéric Penard.

Today, the Aquarius is leaving Marseille as on day one, with the same conviction comforted by the support of the European civil society and of dozens of European personalities who expressed in an Open Letter their spontaneous solidarity to the Aquarius, a rescue ship that has become the concrete symbol for those in Europe who place the universal values of respect for human life, dignity and solidarity before any other consideration.

For immediate release. 
Credits: Perrine Baglan / SOS MEDITERRANEE. For editorial use only, no commercial use. For further information please contact:
International: Mathilde Auvillain /
France: Laura Garel /
Germany: Hanna Krebs /
Italy: Barbara Amodeo /
Switzerland: Caroline Abu Sa’Da /