Despite the hostile environment targeting NGOs working at sea, SOS MEDITERRANEE remains fully committed to provide lifesaving assistance and is preparing to resume search and rescue operations in early 2019.
Eighteen months of criminalization, delegitimization and defamation of search and rescue NGOs has led to new threats to lifesaving missions at sea, with a rise of the death toll in the world’s most dangerous migration route. Meanwhile, a relentless ongoing political, judicial and administrative campaign backed by several European states has led the Aquarius to remain in port over the past two months, unable to resume its search and rescue work. Faced with this situation, SOS MEDITERRANEE will not remain inactive and will continue its vital mission of saving lives at sea in full respect of international maritime law.
“Ending operations of the Aquarius vessel was an extremely difficult decision to make, but one that will enable our teams to resume search and rescue work as soon as possible” said Frédéric Penard, Head of Operations of SOS MEDITERRANEE. “We refuse to remain idle on shore as people continue to die at sea. As long as people will continue attempting the most dangerous sea crossing in the world, SOS MEDITERRANEE will fulfill its maritime duty, responding to the emergency by all professional means possible”.
Following political pressures from European states, the Aquarius vessel has been cancelled twice in less than two months from the flag state registers – first by Gibraltar and then Panama – and it is now facing disproportionate allegations of criminal activity. “Repeated and targeted attacks against life-saving aid organizations, coupled with the EU states’ criminal disregard of their maritime and international obligations, lead to mounting life-threatening risks for people”, said Verena Papke, Director of SOS MEDITERRANEE Germany. “This year only, more than 2.100 people, that we know of, have died in the Mediterranean Sea, while many more have been intercepted by EU-backed Libyan coastguard’s operations and returned to dire conditions in Libya. The Aquarius has helped in filling void in the Mediterranean and now the repeated unacceptable attacks resulted in stopping it. Today, search and rescue at sea is nearly non-nexistent, portraying the failure of Europe”.
SOS MEDITERRANEE is already actively exploring options for a new ship and flag, welcoming proposals from shipping companies that would allow it to continue its life-saving mission. «This is a strong sign of solidarity by the maritime world towards our civil search and rescue mission. Since the start of our mission in February 2016, our work is only possible thanks to the incredible support we receive from civil society”, said Sophie Beau, co-founder and Vice-President of SOS MEDITERRANEE. “Saving lives at sea is and will remain our mission and, now more than ever, we need all the support in the ongoing efforts to finding a new ship and flag”.