Latest Tragedy at Sea Highlights Urgent Need for Increased Rescue Capacity in the Mediterranean

Marta Soszynska/MSF

Barcelona, August 5, 2015Today’s tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea, in which hundreds of people drowned after a boat carrying approximately 600 people capsized, underscores the severe lack of adequate search and rescue operations in the area, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Wednesday.

“It was a horrific sight, people desperately clinging to lifebelts, boats, and anything they could, fighting for their lives, amidst people drowning, and those who had already died,” said Juan Matías, MSF project coordinator on the Dignity I, one of the organization’s search and rescue ships. “The fact that we were first called to assist this boat and then shortly afterwards sent to another one highlights the severe lack of resources available for rescue operations.”

The wooden boat capsized close to the Libyan shore shortly before the Dignity I arrived on the scene Wednesday.

MSF initially received a call from Rome's Maritime Rescue Coordination Center about the wooden boat in distress around 9 a.m., but was then diverted to rescue another vessel. This rescue, of 94 people, was completed around 12:30 p.m. The Dignity I then received another call asking for assistance on the original vessel.  As MSF’s Dignity I approached, the wooden boat had already capsized and an Irish boat that had previously arrived at the scene was already conducting rescue operations. Approximately 300 people are believed to have survived.

 Other rescue ships continued to arrive in order to assist, and the Dignity I provided medical treatment to ten people; five were in such severe condition that they needed to be evacuated by helicopter. The MSF rescue ships Bourbon Argos and MY Phoenix, operated by Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), were also deployed.

Prior to today´s tragedy, 1,941 people are already believed to have lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea this year. MSF began its search and rescue operations in in May, and so far has rescued more than 10,000 people. 

Mohamed (2nd L) and his family receives support on board the MSF Dignity I search and rescue vessel after their wooden boat capsized and sank in the Mediterranean 05 August.
Marta Soszynska/MSF