copyright msf caption © Kenny Karpov/SOS MEDITERRANEE
12 Jun 18 13 Jun 18

Mediterranean search-and-rescue: MSF urges immediate disembarkation of 629 rescuees to nearest port of safety

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is urging European Union member states to facilitate the immediate disembarkation of 629 people rescued over the weekend in the Mediterranean. Those rescued are now onboard the Aquarius, a dedicated search and rescue vessel run by SOS MEDITERRANEE in partnership with MSF. Aquarius remains in international waters off Malta and Italy, the countries with the closest ports of safety, but which continue to refuse permission to dock.

MSF welcomes the important gesture of humanity from Spain to disembark in Valencia. However, this would mean already exhausted people rescued at sea would have to endure four more days exposed to the elements on the deck, in an overcrowded boat already well over maximum capacity and in deteriorating weather conditions. The better option would be to disembark the rescued people in the nearest port after which they can be transferred to Spain or other safe countries for further care and legal processing. 

UPDATE - June 12

We are now receiving supplies, coordinated by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (IMRCC). 

The plan presented by the IMRCC is to transfer 500 people from the Aquarius to two Italian ships, with the other 129 remaining on the Aquarius, and sail to Valencia, Spain together, then disembark all rescued people there. 

This plan means the exhausted and sick rescuees will have to endure four more days travel at sea. 

As it stands, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and SOS MEDITERRANEE are waiting for the action plan from IMRCC, and then we will assess whether it is safe and acceptable to travel.

“Disembarkation cannot be delayed further.” said Dr. David Beversluis, MSF’s doctor on board Aquarius. “The priority must be to immediately disembark all 629 people – including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children and six pregnant women – to the nearest port of safety. The medical situation on board remains stable for now, but people are exhausted and stressed.”

MSF is particularly concerned about several critical drowning and hypothermia patients who were resuscitated. These patients are being closely monitored on-board, as they could quickly develop significant pulmonary issues after aspirating sea water. Many rescued people have reported aspiration of sea water and so are at risk for developing pulmonary disease or pneumonia over the coming days. There are 21 patients who have suffered severe chemical burns after being exposed to a toxic mixture of sea water and fuel for an extended period of time. These patients are stable but will need ongoing wound care and dressing changes over the coming days and weeks. Finally, there are several serious orthopedics cases with associated infections that need immediate surgical evaluation and operations which MSF is unable to provide on the ship.

Once people rescued at sea have been disembarked in a port of safety, the next priority is for EU governments and institutions to step up and find shared solutions to support countries on the frontline such as Italy who are dealing with the burden of arrivals of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants by sea.

“Denying disembarkation to desperate people rescued at sea cannot be considered as a victory: it is the wrong response to the lack of responsibility and burden sharing between member states,” said Aloys Vimard, MSF’s project coordinator on-board the Aquarius. “All EU governments and institutions must step up and support countries on the frontline dealing with sea arrivals such as Italy, to guarantee shared solutions and stop unacceptable silence and inaction from EU states.”

UPDATE - June 10: Further information on rescues and transfers

The 629 people currently aboard the Aquarius were rescued during night of Saturday to Sunday, when Aquarius carried out six rescue and transfer operations in the span of nine hours – all under instruction from the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination (IMRCC). The rescue of two rubber boats turned critical when one of them broke apart in the darkness, leaving over 40 people in the water.

After rescuing 229 people from these boats, the Aquarius was requested by the IMRCC to accept a transfer of people who were rescued by Italian navy and coast guard ships on 9 June. The Aquarius received a transfer of 129 people from an Italian Coastguard ship (CP 312), followed by 64 others from a second Italian Coastguard ship (CP 319) and finally 88 survivors from a third (CP 267). The ship San Giusto then assisted teams of the Aquarius for a final transfer: 119 shipwrecked were transferred from Italian merchant ship MV Jolly Vanadio to the Aquarius.

The Italian MRCC coordinated all these actions from the start and took responsibility for the rescue of all these people. However, despite transferring rescued people from Italian Navy and Coast guard ships to the Aquarius, the Italian MRCC refused now to take any responsibility to bring the rescued people to a port of safety.

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