The European Council leads to “contradictions and inconsistencies” on the framework of rescues at sea

Press release                                                                     Marseille, 30 June 2018

SOS MEDITERRANEE: The European Council leads to “contradictions and inconsistencies” on the framework of rescues at sea

The Aquarius, chartered by SOS MEDITERRANEE and operated in partnership with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), docked on Friday 29 June in the port of Marseille for a regular technical stop at the end of her 40th “rotation” of three weeks, one of the more complex and gruelling since the beginning of her mission two years ago.

While European states continue to prioritise political considerations over human lives, the Aquarius is preparing to return to sea as soon as possible, after a clear assessment of a context which is more unfavourable than ever before.

Docking in Marseille at the end of Aquarius’ most challenging rotation
On Friday, June 8, 2018, the Aquarius left the port of Catania in Sicily, her usual home port, for a new rescue mission at sea. Less than 24 hours later, at 100 km from the Libyan coast, the Aquarius was mobilised by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (IMRCC) in Rome for the rescue of two distressed dinghies. 229 people were rescued amid critical conditions, although at least two people were reported missing by the survivors. That same night, the Aquarius welcomed 4 transfers of 400 additional people, then received the instructions from the Italian maritime authorities to proceed north for the disembarkation of the survivors.While the maritime conventions oblige the authority coordinating the rescue to disembark the survivors without delay in the nearest safe harbour, two days of uncertainty and confused coordination ultimately resulted in instructions to travel to Valencia, Spain.

Following the disembarkation of the 630 shipwrecked in Valencia on Sunday 17 June, SOS MEDITERRANEE denounced a “forced and unacceptable odyssey”, and once again urged European heads of state and governments to assume their responsibilities and put in place a European rescue model founded on respect for fundamental human rights.

On 23 June, back in the Central Mediterranean, the Aquarius engaged in an active search in coordination with the MRCC Malta of a boat reported in distress of the Tunisian coast by the Maltese maritime authorities. The boat was never found.

On 24 June, the Aquarius received 7 alerts about boats in distress in international waters east of Tripoli with potentially as many as 1000 people on board. These reports were distributed via Navtex, a warning system with which all ships are equipped. When it arrived in the distress zone, the Aquarius learned that the boats had been intercepted by the Libyan Coastguard and that more than 800 people had been returned to Libya. No indication was provided as to the conditions of the boats or potential victims. The Aquarius saw a Libyan Coastguard vessel with several hundred people on board on the outside decks proceeding to Libya later on the day.

Monday, when the Aquarius had to access a port for her regular technical stopover (crew change and resupply of food and fuel), she was denied entry into a Maltese port, without an explanation. Aware of being no longer welcome in Italy where she usually makes her port of call, the Aquarius continued sailing north towards the port of Marseille, France, where she arrived Friday, June 29.

“During this rotation, the Aquarius witnessed three unacceptable situations: the unabated continuation of departures and daily human tragedies in the Central Mediterranean, the intensifying interceptions by the Libyan Coastguard who return the shipwrecked people to hell, and the instrumentalisation and criminalisation by the European political class of the legal obligation of rescue on the high seas” said Nicola Stalla, SOS MEDITERRANEE Search and Rescue Coordinator onboard the Aquarius.

The European Council: “Contradictions and inconsistencies”

At the same time as the Aquarius was arriving at the port of Marseille, the European Council summit largely devoted to the issue of migration in the Central Mediterranean was coming to an end.

SOS MEDITERRANEE regrets that the 28 heads of state and governments did not understand the urgency of providing concrete answers to the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in the Mediterranean, despite the rare opportunity of the issue being placed at the top of the political agenda.

The solutions outlined for the disembarkation of people rescued at sea are confusing, far from concrete, and do not currently provide a framework for action for ships involved in rescue operations.

Even worse, the 28 reaffirm their willingness to reinforce the interception capabilities of the Libyan Coastguards, which is in direct conflict with the same maritime and humanitarian conventions by which they claim to be inspired.

On June 28, a rescue coordination center in Libya was formally registered by the International Maritime Organisation. However, it is commonly recognised that Libya offers no “place of safety”.

The outcome of the European Council summit and the formalisation by the International Maritime Organisation of a Rescue Coordination Center in Libya add to the contradictions and inconsistencies of the framework in which search and rescue operations are carried out in the Central Mediterranean. It is urgent to return to a strict understanding that law should be the only foundation in the assistance of people in danger“, said Francis Vallat, President of SOS MEDITERRANEE France.

Faced with these major changes, our duty as seamen is to return to sea as soon as possible upon reassessment of the conditions in which to continue our mission.


For immediate release. 
Credits:  / 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 /

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 29.318 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.