Mediterranean’s last refugee rescue ship ends operations
PARIS/MARSEILLE, France: The last refugee rescue ship working in the Mediterranean Sea, Aquarius, has ended her operations, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said late Thursday, blaming harassment from Italy and other countries. “This is a somber day,” Nelke Mander, MSF’s general director, stated. “The end of our operations onboard the Aquarius will mean more death in the sea, deaths that are avoidable and without witnesses.”
The decision to moor the Aquarius is the result of a “constant denigration, smearing and obstruction campaign led” against MSF and SOS Mediterranean by the Italian government and supported by other European countries, the NGO said.
The Aquarius was recently accused of trafficking waste and criminal activities – accusations that are “ludicrous,” MSF said.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has repeatedly closed Italian ports to the ship, forcing it to sail for days with dozens of rescued migrants aboard to find a port in other countries.
Salvini has refused to take more migrants from the Aquarius, demanding other EU countries take a share. He also said the rescue ships like Aquarius encouraged people to take the sea to cross toward Europe.
Europe has seen the biggest influx of people for decades in the past three years, many fleeing conflicts and poverty in the Middle East and Africa. Sea arrivals have dropped sharply, but the political aftershocks are still reverberating.
Additionally the U.N. voiced concern Friday at the MSF charity’s decision to retire its Aquarius rescue ship amid alleged obstruction by some European countries, saying more capacity was needed to save migrants stranded in the Mediterranean.
“Search and rescue capacity needs to be reinforced rather than diminished,” U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo reported, stressing the need to leave “space for NGOs to contribute in a coordinated manner to these efforts. Saving lives is our primary concern.”
The ship, commissioned in February 2016, has rescued almost 30,000 people in international waters off Libya, Malta and Italy. She has stayed moored on Marseilles since Oct. 4, after transferring 58 migrants on Malta in her last mission.
MSF estimates 2,133 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2018, mainly embarking from Libya. –