12 June 2018

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is urging European Member States to facilitate the immediate disembarkation of 629 people rescued over the weekend in Mediterranean and now aboard 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.

MSF, Doctors Without Borders, Med sea, Diplomatic Standoff
The 629 people currently onboard Aquarius were rescued during night of Saturday to Sunday. 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.
Photo: Kenny Karpov/SOS MEDITERRANEE

“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 6 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 aboard as they could quickly develop significant pulmonary issues after aspirating sea water. Many rescued people have reported aspiration 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 orthopaedics cases with associated infections that need immediate surgical evaluation and operations which MSF is unable to provide on the ship.

MSf, Doctors Without Borders, Med Sea, Diplomatic standoff
The rescue of 2 rubber boats turned critical when one boat broke apart in the darkness, leaving over 40 people in the water.
Photo: Kenny Karpov/SOS MEDITERRANEE

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 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.”

Aloys Vimard – MSF Project Coordiantor, Aquarius, explains his first hand experience here