Rescue organisations SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have decided to stop the Aquarius refugee rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea after what it calls “a relentless ongoing political, judicial and administrative campaign backed by several European states”.
The decision, made public late on Thursday evening, was made after the Aquarius had to remain in port for the last two months following allegations of breaking the law.
“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,” Director of SOS Mediterranee Germany Verena Papke said in a statement.
“The Aquarius has helped in filling void in the Mediterranean and now the repeated unacceptable attacks resulted in stopping it,” she added.
“Today, search and rescue at sea is nearly non-nexistent, portraying the failure of Europe.”
⚡️Breaking news⚡️End of Aquarius charter for prompt resumption of search and rescue missions. SOS MÉDITERRANÉE determined to go back at sea while death toll in #Mediterranean rises https://t.co/ePZ7RrdwsE
— SOS MEDITERRANEE (@SOSMedIntl) December 6, 2018
The Aquarius ship has been in the Mediterranean since February 2016, and has since rescued thousands of people who tried to cross the sea from the African shores into Europe.
But in recent months the ship has regularly run into problems with European countries.
In June, Italy’s new Interior Minister Matteo Salvini blocked the Aquarius, carrying 629 refugees and migrants, from docking at its ports.
The move by the far-right leader, who is also a co-deputy prime minister, caused a public outcry with thousands in France taking part in rallies to express their anger at the efforts to stop the last migrant rescue ship operating off Libya’s coast.
Eventually, the ship sailed to Spain where the refugees were allowed to leave the ship.
Last month, Italian authorities ordered the ship to be seized after an accusation that the vessel was being used to illegally dump toxic waste at ports in southern Italy.
As a result, the ship remained docked in the French port city of Marseille.
SOS Mediterranee called that action by the Italian authorities a “politically driven attack” and said all rules were followed and the Italian authorities never raised an alarm over the issue.
Despite the decision to no longer operate the Aquarius, SOS Mediterranee said it was looking at new options regarding rescue missions on the Mediterranean Sea.
“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,” the organisation said.
“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,” it said.
“We refuse to remain idle on shore as people continue to die at sea.”