The Malta Independent 16 October 2019, Wednesday

SOS Méditerranée to relaunch Mediterranean Search & Rescue operations

Jeremy Micallef Tuesday, 23 July 2019, 10:40 Last update: about 4 months ago

SOS Méditerranée and their partners Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF or Doctors Without Borders) will be relaunching their search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

In a statement last December, they announced that they were forced to terminate operations by the search and rescue vessel Aquarius as a result of a “sustained campaign, spearheaded by the Italian government and backed by other European states, to delegitimise, slander and obstruct aid organisations providing assistance to vulnerable people”.

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A number of political figures have suggested that whilst the vessels may be, in part, saving lives, they are also incentivizing individuals to undertake the dangerous voyage – therefore essentially “aiding” human traffickers business model.

The new vessel named the “Ocean Viking” will be flying the Norwegian flag.

Migrant crossings have declined overall, arguably due to the Libyan coast guard increasing its search and rescue activities with the cooperation and aid of European countries – a policy MSF and SOS Méditerranée have and still opposed.

Speaking with BBC, SOS Méditerranée's co-founder Sophie Beau said that no rescue vessels were currently operating in the area, and humanitarian groups had no choice but to step in.

Beau said that they have been able to rescue 30,000 people since 2015, but that there were many more that were rescued by other ships, including military ships.

She insisted that there is currently a vacuum in the area, so as civilians, they do whatever they can to fill that void where there is “major failure of states”.

Italian Foreign Minister Matteo Salvini has been an outspoken politician in the EU in his opposition to the NGO vessels and announced earlier this month that he will be extending the recent security and migration degree to also allow the government to confiscate ships flying under the Italian flag apart from those flying non-Italian flags.

According to a report from Il Giornale, the modus operandi of this amending proposal is to “prepare every useful measure to prevent what happened in the last few weeks from being repeated” – referring to the Sea Watch 3 ship and its Captain, Carola Rackete, entering Italian territorial water against the wishes of Italian authorities.

Salvini also accused Carola of ramming a patrol boat with the vessel, a charge for which she is currently in court – although, considering the lack of video evidence publicly available, it is impossible to say what went on at this time.

“It is not satisfying but we can do this and we have to do it.”

The MV Aquarius brought in 141 immigrants on 15 August, after being stranded at sea for many days as no country was willing to take them in until the deal that was brokered by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

The vessel also transferred 58 persons on a Maltese asset in international waters in September, who were brought to Malta and then immediately redistributed to another four European Union member states.

The Aquarius’ last active period of search and rescue ended on 4 October 2018, when it arrived in the port of Marseille and dropped off 58 people.

 

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