Saving lives in the Mediterranean


Sir, – After pressure from the Italian government, the Panama Maritime Authority revoked the registration of the search and rescue ship Aquarius, operated by Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Méditeranée. MSF denounces this in the strongest possible terms. This puts our lifesaving work in jeopardy and, much more importantly, increases the likelihood that people who will undoubtedly set sail from the coast of Libya in the coming weeks will drown.

It has never been more dangerous to cross the Mediterranean Sea and reducing rescue capacity yet further can only result in more deaths. So far this year 1,730 people have died in the Mediterranean sea, an unacceptable and avoidable tragedy.

Reducing rescue capacity is just one facet of inhumane tactics by some European leaders who are putting politics above all else: above the duty to save lives, above people’s legal rights, above a willingness to admit that their migration policies are failing. This disregard for human life has been present in European migration policies in recent years.

Another facet is European policy to support, fund and train the Libyan Coastguard to intercept refugees and migrants at sea and return them to Libya. Operation Sophia, of which the Irish Naval Service is a part of, supports these efforts too.

With no humanitarian ship in the area, not only will rescue capacity be reduced but there will be no one left to count the bodies.

Those who do not drown are likely to be intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and taken back to Libya where many end up in the same situation from which they had fled. In Libya, refugees and migrants are often extorted, beaten, sexually assaulted, sold into slavery and even murdered.

As fighting rages across the streets of Tripoli and other parts of this splintered country, it has become even more perilous. Detention centres in Tripoli, where refugees and migrants are brought back to, are now in active conflict zones and some migrants are abandoned close to fighting, left to fend for themselves without food or water.

This week the Taoiseach told the United Nations “we should provide a voice for the oppressed around the world”. We urge him to provide a voice for those who risk their lives at sea and speak out against reducing search-and-rescue capacity.

European governments must allow the Aquarius to continue its mission in response to the tragedy in the Central Mediterranean and immediately issue a new flag under which the vessel can sail.


Director of Médecins

Sans Frontières/

Doctors Without

Borders (MSF)

in Ireland,

Upper Baggot Street,

Dublin 4.