On Thursday 6 August 2015, the MSF Search & Rescue boat Bourbon Argos engaged in a complicated and tense rescue operation of a vessel in visible distress crammed with 613 passengers.
The MY Phoenix with MSF staff on board and an Italian vessel were in the vicinity, and were also requested to assist, as the boat was listing badly and it was clear this could be a problematic operation
Lindis Hurum, MSF Emergency Coordinator on the boat describes the situation.
It was intense. I spent 45 minutes on our fast rescue boat, staying close to them and talking to them in order to keep them calm until the other vessels arrived to assist us. It is an impressive sight when so many desperate and frightened people are crammed on a boat like this.The boat was close to tipping over - at one point I really thought it would capsize.
During the rescue there was a mass man-overboard as people jumped ship, but we had passed sufficient life jackets onto the boat so all the people who jumped were rescued and no one drowned. There were many women, children and elderly men.
Afterwards, I went on the boat to check that everyone had been rescued. What a sight - the conditions in the hold were terrible and I still cannot believe no one died. They were very lucky.
We transferred everyone we rescued to a Norwegian Navy Boat for immediate passage towards Italy late last night. Already this morning [Friday 07 August] we have saved a further 128 people from a rubber boat. They were all ecstatic to be alive and safe. Very emotional scenes of joy, prayer and singing broke out once they were safe on our ship.
We are awaiting a transfer of a hundred or so people from another boat, and then we will also make our way towards Italy.