Tension between NGOs and Libya in Mediterranean

Image: SOS Mediterranee.

ROME – SOS Mediterranee reported that they saved 98 people from a deflating rubber boat in international waters on a day in which they also clashed with the Libyan coastguard aboard their vessel Aquarius which they run in partnership with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

 Klaus Merkle, SOS Mediterranee's search and rescue coordinator aboard the Aquarius, relayed how as “our speed boats approached the rubber dinghy, it was already deflating on one side and people were in the water without lifejackets. All floating devices were deployed immediately, but many people had already lost consciousness when they were pulled out of the water and had to be resuscitated.”

 Seven people were successfully resuscitated by the team but despite their best efforts, the Aquarius arrived too late for two women. Many of those reported to have been on board are still missing. Aoife Ni Mhurchu, a nurse for MSF called the scene “devastating”: “They kept coming, one after another, unconscious and not breathing.”

 Several of those drawn from the water were later evacuated by an Italian navy helicopter to Sfax in Tunisia to receive immediate medical care.

 On Friday evening, the Aquarius had watched as Libyan coastguard intercepted another boat in international waters. Having finally located those in distress, the Aquarius team were ordered by the Libyan coastguard to leave the area and all offers of assistance were refused, an order that the central Italian coastguard in Rome asked Aquarius to honour.

 “We could see people's frightened faces and we could hear them screaming and calling for help,” Merkle stated. “Our teams were ready to intervene at any moment to save these men, women and children in distress, but the Libyan Coast Guard brutally ordered us to leave the area and categorically refused any offer of assistance.”

 Sophie Beau, Vice President of SOS Mediterranee International, added her voice to the growing chorus of anger at the European Union’s collaboration with the Libyan government. "According to International maritime law, people rescued in international waters have to be brought to a ‘place of safety’. This safe place cannot be Libya, a place lacking state structures and where human rights violations occur on a daily basis."

 "We again urge the European states to do everything they can to prevent such tragedies and to put an end to these preventable deaths.”