On Monday, September 12, at 7:00 a.m., a healthy baby boy was born on board the MV Aquarius, a search and rescue vessel run in partnership between Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and SOS MEDITERRANEE, a European maritime rescue humanitarian organization. The child was born in international waters to Nigerian parents. They named him Newman Otas.
But only 24 hours before the delivery, parents Victor and Faith, along with their two sons, both under the age of 10, sat anxiously on an overcrowded rubber boat in hopes of safely crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Italy. It was there that Faith began to feel movement from her unborn child. "I was very stressed on the rubber boat, sitting on the floor of the boat with the other women and children. Panicking that I would go into labor," Faith recalls. "I could feel my baby moving, he would move down and then move back up again. I had been having contractions for three days."
When the MV Aquarius arrived, it rescued over 200 people from two rubber boats, including 11 children under the age of five, four babies under one year old, and 141 passengers under the age of 18 traveling alone. MSF midwife Jonquil Nicholl delivered the baby on board the ship. "A very normal birth in dangerously abnormal conditions," she explains. "I am filled with horror at the thought of what would have happened if this baby had arrived 24 hours earlier, in that unseaworthy rubber boat, with fuel on the bottom where the women sit, crammed in with no space to move, at the mercy of the sea."
"And 48 hours previously they were waiting on a beach in Libya not knowing what was ahead of them," says Nicholl. "How can this still happen in 2016? That families, vulnerable people, pregnant women, tiny babies and unborn babies are forced to risk their lives in the Mediterranean Sea when they should be receiving assistance and protection."
Since beginning operations on April 21, 2016, MSF teams on board the refugee rescue mission ships Dignity, Bourbon Argos, and Aquarius in partnership with SOS MEDITERRANEE have saved 12,003 people in 89 different rescue operations in the Mediterranean.