Mediterranean: MSF rescued nearly 2,000 people in less than seven hours

The Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) search and rescue teams on board the Bourbon Argos, the Dignity I and the Aquarius (run in partnership with SOS Mediteranee) today rescued nearly 2,000 men, women and children from 11 separate boats in less than seven hours. Many of the rescues were conducted in dramatic circumstances, with some patients requiring evacuation to the Italian mainland. Tragically, one young pregnant woman died after being rescued by the Dignity I and before she was able to be transferred to land.

“When we arrived to our second rescue this morning, people were in the water and some were close to drowning. It was a horrific site,” said Nicolas Papachrysostomou, MSF’s field coordinator on Dignity I. “People were frightened and many of them were suffering from fuel burns, particularly women and children. Devastatingly, as we were heading to the medevac, our critical patient, a pregnant woman, died. It is just unacceptable that, in 2016, these people are left with no other choice than making this dramatic and deadly journey.”

Today’s intense rescues come just after the Bourbon Argos' return to operations, having been on stand-by since the 17 August when it was involved in an incident with the Libyan Coastguard.  The 60 metre vessel was today engaged in eight separate rescues, taking on board a total of 1,019 people. At the same time the Aquarius was involved in the painstaking rescue of a staggering 720 people from one very overcrowded wooden boat. Those on board both the Bourbon Argos and the Aquarius are stable, but the medical teams are treating many people suffering from non life-threatening illnesses. The Aquarius team has recorded a worrying situation in terms of nutritional status among the primarily Eritrean people rescued. Another 213 people were rescued by the Dignity I.

“In the absence of safe and legal alternatives to dangerous boat journeys, people continue to die in their hundreds in the Mediterranean Sea,” says Tommaso Fabbri, MSF’s Head of Mission in Italy. “Although search and rescue operations continue to be an insufficient answer to this tragedy, today shows just how needed humanitarian and independent organisations like our own are on the Central Mediterranean. But let’s be clear, search and rescue is not enough. People urgently need safe and legal routes to reach Europe; it’s the only way to stop deaths at sea.”

Since 21 April, when MSF’s search and rescue operations began for 2016, the Dignity I, Bourbon Argos and Aquarius have rescued a total of 14,547 people in more than 100 different rescue operations, while at least 3,230 people have died in what has become the most deadly migratory route in the world. MSF continues to stress that although search and rescue is lifesaving and essential, the only way to truly stop deaths at sea is to provide safe and legal alternatives to dangerous sea crossings.