‘Dark Day’ – Aquarius ends its search and rescue operations

Twitter SOSMedFrance / Maud Veith

In a tweet Doctors Without Borders (MSF) announced that MSF and SOS Mediterranee have been forced to end operations on search and rescue ship Aquarius. In a statement MSF explained that they were not allowed to proceed with their rescue missions and remained in port.

The organisation explained that they came to this point after a sustained campaign which was spearheaded by the Italian government and backed by other European states to de-legitimize, slander and obstruct aid organisations from providing assistance to vulnerable people escaping from Libya through what they described as the “world’s deadliest migration route”.

MSF’s general director Nelke Manders described this as a dark day, Manders remarked that not only Europe had failed to provide the necessary search and rescue capacity but has “actively sabotaged” others’ attempts to save lives.

The Aquarius has assisted nearly 30,000 people in international waters between Libya, Italy and Malta since February 2016. While more than 80,000 individuals in the Mediterranean Sea were rescued or assisted by  MSF’s previous search and rescue vessels since 2015.

Aquarius was stripped off its registration twice earlier this year. It was last active in October when 58 people were rescued and brought over to Malta after a standoff. It later proceeded to Marseilles in order to see to their registration.

Recently the Italian authorities have ordered the seizure of the rescue ship after claiming that the discarded clothes worn by those saved on their voyage to Italy could have been contaminated with HIV, meningitis and tuberculosis. The allegations have been described as “patently absurd by the organisation”.

MSF’s head of emergencies Karline Kleijer claimed that Europe was directly supporting forced returns while claiming successes on migration, she lambasted the EU saying that the “success” meant lack of lifesaving assistance at sea, children, women and men, pushed back to arbitrary detention with virtually no hope of escape and the creation of a climate that discourages all ships at sea from carrying out their obligations to rescue those in distress.

Watch: Exclusive – on board the Aquarius, “Everyone is safe”