Non-governmental organizations SOS MEDITERRANEE, MSF and SEA-WATCH has urgently called for the provision of European state-led search and rescue maritime assets in the central Mediterranean to prevent more deaths among migrants.
Within five days, Geo Barents, a search and rescue ship operated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), and Ocean Viking a search and rescue ship chartered by SOS MEDITERRANEE in partnership with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), rescued sixteen boats in distress. The week before, the Sea-Watch 3 was also able to rescue five boats in distress at sea with a total of 444 survivors, according to MSF.
Without the presence of civil search and rescue assets in the central Mediterranean, the children, women and men rescued during these lifesaving operations would have been left to their fate in international waters off Libya, on the world deadliest sea migration route since 2014, MSF said in a statement.
The disengagement of European maritime capacity from search and rescue in the central Mediterranean, as well as delays in assigning a place of safety for disembarkation have undermined the integrity and capacity of the search and rescue system and therefore the ability to save lives, it added.
Despite the fact that, as prescribed by maritime law, we systematically seek coordination for our operations, the Libyan maritime authorities almost never respond, neglecting their legal obligation to coordinate assistance, MSF stated.
Furthermore, when they intervene and intercept boats in distress, Libyan maritime authorities systematically forcibly return the survivors to Libya, which cannot be considered as a place of safety according to the UN, it pointed out.
Meanwhile, despite the critical lack of adequate search and rescue assets in this stretch of the sea, people continue to flee Libya via the sea and risk their lives to seek safety.
During summer, when weather conditions are the most favorable to attempt such a dangerous journey, departures from Libya are more frequent and a large search and rescue fleet is therefore required, said MSF.