SOS MEDITERRANEE and MSF called on all European governments and their relevant maritimes rescue authorities to grant quick access to the nearest port of safety and to facilitate humanitarian assistance on the Central Mediterranean. The organisations said that they remain concerned about the European policies that are hindering the provision of humanitarian assistance and which resulted in a number of deaths in the recent months.
Both SOS MEDITERRANEE and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) operate the rescue vessel Aquarius which was chartered by SOS MEDITERRANEE. The rescue vessel is the one of only two humanitarian search and rescue vessels on the Central Mediterranean Sea. Three vessels, Seefuchs, Sea-Watch Vessel 3 and MV Lifeline remain blocked in Malta.
In a statement MSF said that Aquarius started headingnorth after the Libyan Joint Rescue Coordination Centre informed the vessel that it would not provide a place of safety for the 141 people rescued on Friday. Aquarius had informed all relevant authorities about their rescue operation and activities on Friday. While on its way, the Libyan JRCC asked Aquarius to conduct a rescue of 10 people on Sunday.
The Libyan Joint Rescue Coordination Centre however informed Aquarius that it would not provide a place of safety to those onboard and it instructed Aquarius to request a place of safety from another Rescue Coordination Centre which led the vessel to head north.
MSF’s Project Coordinator onboard, Aloys Vimard accused the Libyan JRCC of not informing Aquarius of boats in distress despite Aquarius having offered assistance. He continued by saying that it was “extremely fortunate” that these boats were spotted by Aquarius.
The people onboard the ship told Aquarius that they had encountered five different ships which did not offer them any assistance. According to the MSF this may be due to the high risk of being stranded and denied a place of safety.
The people on board the ship were rescued by Aquarius on Friday. 25 of those rescued were adrift on a small wooden boat with no engine on board. While 116 people were rescued from a second overcrowded wooden boat which included 67 unaccompanied minors.
In a recent report by human rights organisation Amnesty International, Malta came under heavy criticism.