Monday, 15. October 2018

An Italian member of our rescue team wrote a moving text on the tragedy that has opened the eyes of the world to the humanitarian tragedy that is still unfolding in the Mediterranean. By Alessandro Porro.

Five years. It took five years for Europe to forget the Lampedusa tragedy. On October 3 2013, a boat that departed from Libya sank near the island, causing the death of 369 people.This resulted in mass outrage and shame at the time, leading to Italy proclaiming a day of national mourning and reviewing the laws on reception and integration of refugees.

We, members of civil society, are joining the crew of the Aquarius, the last active civil rescue ship in the Central Mediterranean, in demanding that all States in Europe uphold the duty to save lives in distress at sea prior to any political considerations and in full respect of applicable international law. We call upon all States in Europe to:

  • Take all measures available to allow the Aquarius to resume its life-saving mission as soon as possible,
  •  Comply with the duty to render assistance to people in distress at sea,
  • Assume their responsibilities by establishing an effective European rescue model in the Mediterranean.

1. We welcome the announcement by France and Malta of a coordinated European response: The 58 survivors of 2 rescues events, who are at the moment on board the Aquarius, will be transshipped on a Maltese asset, in international waters. According to the information released officially by the Maltese government, the survivors will be disembarked in Malta and all of them will be immediately redistributed in another four European Union member states.We have no information where these people will be redistributed.

The Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) exposed EU’s disregard for national sovereignty and social rights.

The Portugese Communist Party (PCP) strongly denounced and condemned the attacks ‘on democracy, social rights, fundamental freedoms and guarantees of the citizens in Hungary.’ The PCP also rejected that under the pretext of this situation the European Union (EU) tries to pave the way to increase its threats, blackmail, impositions and sanctions against the States and their peoples, which portrays the policies of the EU itself.

The Aquarius is resuming her mission because rescuing people is the duty, responsibility and purpose of all ships and crews in the Central Mediterranean. However, today, the ships dedicated to search and rescue of boats in distress are fewer than ever.

The Aquarius is sailing back into international waters off the coast of Libya because this is her right. The aid she can, and always has, provided is efficient, professional and humane. 

SOS MEDITERRANEE emphasizes that it is the EU’s failure to reduce the number of deaths in the Mediterranean that forced humanitarian organizations to step up and take on search and rescue activities, to prevent further loss of life.

We therefore welcome the announcement that the next European Council on the 28th and 29th of June would discuss this matter. We also welcome the fact that a preparatory informal meeting has been called by the President of the European Commission, due to take place this Sunday 24th of June in Brussels.

The distance between the current position of the Aquarius and the port of Valencia in Spain is 760 nautical miles, more than 1.500 kilometers. At a cruising speed of about 10 knots – which may vary depending on weather conditions – it will take the Aquarius more than three days of navigation before it reaches the port of Valencia for the disembarkation of the 629 survivors currently on board.

The Aquarius is awaiting final instructions on the safe harbor (“port of safety”) for the 629 survivors welcomed on board between Saturday to Sunday.

In the night of Saturday to Sunday, the Aquarius, the humanitarian ship chartered by SOS MEDITERRANEE and operated in partnership with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), carried out six rescue and transfer operations in the span of just nine hours – all under instruction from the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination (IMRCC). Conducted in extremely difficult conditions, and in excellent collaboration with the other actors present, 629 lives were saved. A few hours after the Aquarius had received instructions from the competent maritime authorities to proceed to a safe harbor (“port of safety”), the press reported on a statement by the Italian authorities announcing the “closure” of Italian ports. The Aquarius is now halted between Malta and Italy, pending instructions from the competent maritime authorities.

The dinghy was discovered on Thursday morning by SOS MEDITERRANEE’s rescue team 25 nautical miles north of Al Khoms, east of Tripoli. The Aquarius immediately informed the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (IMRCC) about the boat in distress, and the Aquarius was then instructed to proceed to rescue.

158 people – including 26 women, 9 children, and a total of 36 unaccompanied minors – were rescued and placed under the care of the MSF medical staff aboard the Aquarius. Although most of them show signs of exhaustion, dehydration and sunburns – all direct consequences of their dangerous journey at sea – no major medical cases have been reported.

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