The intolerable forced odyssey of the Aquarius must be a wake-up call for Europe

Press release                                                                                                          Valencia, 17 June 2018

Aquarius disembarks 630 rescued people after 8 harrowing days at sea to reach a port of safety

The Aquarius, a humanitarian rescue ship chartered by SOS MEDITERRANEE and operated in partnership with Médecins Sans Frontières, entered the port of Valencia in Spain on Sunday morning, in convoy with an Italian Coast Guard vessel and an Italian warship, for the disembarkation of 630 people rescued in the Mediterranean 8 days earlier.

These 630 men, women and children escaped an unimaginable ordeal in Libya more than eight days ago: pushed into rubber boats by ruthless smugglers, they spent terrifying hours adrift, crammed on fragile boats, before being finally rescued by the Aquarius, by merchant ships, and by Italian coastguard units all following the same non-negotiable law: the law of the sea, which obliges to assist any and every one in distress at sea.

8 days after fleeing the Libyan hell, these 630 people are finally safe and secure on land, in Spain, thanks to the Aquarius and to her crew of professional sailors, volunteer rescuers and humanitarian operators.

The courage and resilience of these 630 shipwrecked, the professionalism and deep humanity of Aquarius crew should be praised, as well as the extraordinary support that SOS MEDITERRANEE has received from the civil society in Spain and all over Europe.

The Aquarius 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.

In this, the multiple delays due to the closure of the Italian ports and then the forced, dangerous and degrading odyssey of the Aquarius in the Mediterranean must imperatively be a wake-up call for European leaders. It will not be tolerable for Europe that such a situation repeats itself.

Inaction of European States is criminal. It has resulted in over 13.000 deaths in the Mediterranean since 2014, when EU-leaders said “never again” after the Lampedusa tragedy. Europe bears these deaths on her conscience.

 

Search and rescue operations must be based on the respect of human life first before any other consideration

 

SOS MEDITERRANEE calls once again on all EU member States to take their responsibility and put the rescue at sea on top of their political agenda. EU member States must immediately cooperate to elaborate a European Search And Rescue model for the Mediterranean:

  • Search and rescue operations must be based on the respect of human life first before any other consideration, in conformity with international maritime law and humanitarian law,
  • Rescued people should be treated with dignity and humanity onboard rescue ships and receive all the care their state of vulnerability requires until a safe harbour is reached,
  • Competent maritime authorities should be allowed to respect their obligations to coordinate and optimize search and rescue operations,
  • A sufficient number of rescue ships, adequately equipped and manned, should be deployed in the Mediterranean, allowing for a vast coverage of the distress zone,
  • Disembarkation of the rescued people to the nearest port of safety must be ensured in all cases, without any delay in accordance with maritime regulations.

We, European citizens, cannot accept more victims in the Mediterranean. SOS MEDITERRANEE calls for a large mobilization of civil society in Europe and in the Mediterranean in order to relay this message to its governing authorities.

Saving lives in distress is a legal and moral imperative. As long as there will be people risking their lives at sea, SOS MEDITERRANEE will pursue its mission in the international waters at the doorstep of Europe to search, rescue, protect and testify.