MSF Expands Mediterranean Search and Rescue Operations

Alessandro Penso/MSF

AUGUSTA, SICILY—The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is launching a second ship to carry out search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea to assist people who are risking their lives trying to reach Europe by boat.

The ship, the Bourbon Argos, is carrying a crew of 26, including experienced search-and-rescue personnel and emergency medical workers.

It sailed from the Sicilian port of Augusta today and will work in parallel with the MY Phoenix, a boat jointly operated by MSF and MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station), which began Mediterranean search and rescue operations on launched on May 2.

"At least 1,750 people have lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year, many of whom are fleeing war, violence and extreme poverty," said Francois Zamparini, MSF emergency coordinator on the Bourbon Argos. "The number of people attempting to cross the sea will increase in the summer season, and we are stepping up our response to address this tragic crisis.”

The MY Phoenix has so far rescued 591 people and assisted in the rescue of 101 more over the past six days. The MSF medical team on board has screened all 692 people, providing medical care when required.

See Also: Video interview with Mary Jo Frawley, MSF nurse onboard the MY Phoenix

Doctors and nurses, along with logisticians, water and sanitation experts, and cultural mediators on the Bourbon Argos will treat people rescued from the sea, stabilize any vulnerable patients, distribute emergency relief items, and arrange for the necessary transfer of emergency cases.

The MSF ship has a capacity to carry 300 to 350 rescued people, and will be able to maneuver quickly in response to distress calls. The 68-meter vessel is specifically adapted to perform search-and-rescue operations and is equipped with an emergency room, consultation rooms, sanitation facilities and a morgue.

“The increasing number of people forced to risk their lives at sea is a consequence of the lack of safe and legal channels for people to migrate and apply for asylum in Europe," Aurélie Ponthieu, humanitarian adviser on migration for MSF. "While search and rescue operations at sea are vital in order to save lives, they will not solve the overall situation in the long term. Our teams in and around the Mediterranean are working to save lives and provide medical support for the most urgent needs, until the situation is adequately and humanely addressed by the European Union."

MSF has provided assistance to vulnerable migrants, asylum seekers and refugees across Europe for 15 years. In addition to its search and rescue operations on the MY Phoenix and Bourbon Argos, MSF is caring for people arriving by boat in a reception center in Pozzallo, Sicily, and is providing psychological first aid at landing ports and in asylum centers in Sicily’s Ragusa region. MSF also supports migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees in Greece and Serbia, including with medical care, distribution of relief items and rehabilitation for victims of torture.

Preparations on the MSF ship for the Search and Rescue operation in Augusta port.
Alessandro Penso/MSF