SOS MEDITERRANEE calls on European and international authorities to urgently clarify framework underlying Libyan Coast Guard intervention in international waters

The conditions under which rescue operations are currently taking place in the Central Mediterranean are becoming increasingly more complicated. As a result, the efficiency, the speed of the operations and ultimately the lives of hundreds of people in distress are severely jeopardized. In late March 2018, over the span of three days, the Aquarius, chartered by SOS MEDITERRANEE and operated in partnership with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), rescued a total of 292 people in distress in international waters off the coast of Libya.

On Thursday 29 March, whilst patrolling 25 nautical miles off the Libyan coast, the Aquarius’ rescue team pulled 122 people to safety under the coordination of the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (IMRCC). On Friday, 30 March, the Aquarius was again called on by the IMRCC, to rescue a rubber boat in distress, first spotted by an Italian Navy helicopter 38 nautical miles north of Zuwarah.

While the rescue was underway, Libyan Coastguard speedboat 648 approached the Aquarius at high speed. The rescue of 131 people in distress, including 12 women and 24 unaccompanied minors, was completed just before its arrival. Following the completion of the rescue operation, the Aquarius informed the IMRCC that it would remain on active watch with the 253 survivors aboard, as weather conditions were forecasted to be likely for further departures.

Saturday: 39 vulnerable people rescued, approximately 90 intercepted by Libyan Coastguards

On Saturday, 31 March, at 10:30am the Aquarius received a call from the IMRCC communicating the position of a vessel in distress identified by a maritime patrol aircraft, part of EUNAVFORMED’s Operation Sophia. After approximately one hour of navigation the inflatable boat was located by SOS MEDITERRANEE’s rescue team.

At 11:34, the IMRCC informed the Aquarius that the Libyan Coastguard would assume coordination of the operation (SAR Case 183). The IMRCC later instructed the Aquarius to evaluate the situation and to remain on standby, whilst not interfering with the rescue operation upon arrival of the Libyan Coastguard.  As the first ship on site, the Aquarius recognized the need for stabilization of the precarious situation. The overcrowded boat in distress continued to approach the Aquarius and those aboard were in urgent need of lifejackets. The Aquarius then received a telephone call from the Libyan Coastguard operations centre, which declared that it had assumed coordination. The Aquarius relayed to the Libyan Coastguard and its vessel Al Khifra 206, which was in route but still some distance away, of the urgent need to distribute lifejackets.

Upon authorization from the Libyan Coastguard, the Aquarius launched two of its rescue boats to start distributing lifejackets. During the stabilization process, rescuers noted the presence of children, including a new-born baby and a number of urgent medical cases – and subsequently received permission from the Libyan Coastguard to evacuate the most vulnerable cases to the Aquarius. The Aquarius was, however, prohibited from rescuing the remaining passengers.

39 people, including a new-born, pregnant women and many children and their parents were evacuated to the Aquarius. However, approximately 90 people were intercepted by the Libyan Coastguard and returned to Libya. During the interception, the Aquarius was ordered to remain at a distance.

“Current conditions for rescue operations at sea are unacceptable”

“The conditions for rescue operations at sea are ever more fraught with complications, as well as confusing and risky transfers of responsibility, which is unacceptable. Rescue vessels are forced to negotiate the evacuation of people in distress – the sick, injured and exhausted, to a safe place on an arbitrary case-by-case basis, all whilst being in a tense and dangerous emergency situation on the high seas. Life-saving assets at sea are becoming increasingly scarce and at the same time, operations are being delayed, human lives are put at risk and instead of prioritizing their safety, people in distress are returned to Libya,” commented Sophie Beau, Vice-President of the international SOS MEDITERRANEE network. “In the absence of a clear, public and transparent protocol governing the intervention of the Libyan Coastguard in international waters off Libya, we urge the relevant European and international bodies to clarify the framework governing the actions of the various actors in this maritime area, the deadliest in the world.


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131 migrants rescued

LCG interception

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