MSF reinforces its search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean

Augusta, Sicily – Médecins Sans Frontières  (MSF) is launching an additional ship to carry out search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea to assist people who are risking their lives trying to reach Europe by boat. The ship is carrying a crew of 26 people, including an experienced search- and rescue crew as well as medical staff to provide emergency medical care. 

The Bourbon Argos, leaving the port of Augusta, Sicily, on 9 May, will provide additional search and rescue support in the Mediterranean. The ship will work in parallel with the MY Phoenix,  a boat jointly operated by MSF and MOAS (Migrant offshore Aid Station), which launched on 2 May. The MY Phoenix has so far rescued 591 people and assisted in the rescue of 101 more in operations over the past 6 days. All 692 have received medical screening and assistance as required from the MSF medical team on board.

“At least 1,750 people have lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year, many of whom are fleeing war, violence and extreme poverty. The number of people attempting to cross the sea will increase in the summer season, and we are stepping up our response to address this tragic crisis by launching an additional ship that will reinforce our existing support”, says Francois Zamparini, MSFs emergency coordinator onboard the Bourbon Argos.           

Onboard medical staff (doctors and nurses) and non-medical staff (logisticians, water and sanitation experts, cultural mediators) will provide medical care and distribute emergency relief items to the rescued people. The medical care includes medical screening and stabilisation of vulnerable patients, as well as referral of emergency cases.

The Bourbon Argos will have the capacity to carry 300 to 350 rescued people, and will be able to maneuver quickly to follow up on a distress call. The 68 metre-long vessel has been specifically adapted to perform search-and-rescue activities. Several containers have been fixed on the deck so the boat is equipped with an emergency room, an observation and consultation room, a dressing/consultation room, sanitation, storage and morgue.

“The increasing number of people forced to risk their lives at sea is a consequence of the lack of safe and legal channels for people to migrate and apply for asylum in Europe. While search and rescue operations at sea are vital in order to save lives, they will not solve the overall situation in the long term. Our teams in and around the Mediterranean are working to save lives and provide medical support for the most urgent needs, until the situation is adequately and humanely addressed by the European Union” says Aurélie Ponthieu, humanitarian advisor on migration for MSF.

Over the past fifteen years, MSF has been providing assistance to vulnerable migrants, asylum seekers and refugees across Europe. In addition to its search and rescue operations on MY Phoenix and Bourbon Argos, MSF is currently providing medical support for people arriving by boat in the reception centre in Pozzallo, Sicily, as well as psychological first aid at landing ports and mental healthcare support in asylum centres in the Ragusa region, Sicily. MSF also runs projects to support migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Greece and Serbia, providing medical care, distributing relief items, and rehabilitation for victims of torture.