Thirty people perished last Sunday in the central Mediterranean, where they could have been rescued. Their loss, as the over 20,000 other deaths that occurred in the same area since 2014, are the result of deliberate, political European choices. SOS MEDITERRANEE calls on urgent re-establishment of efficient Search and Rescue coordination services in line with international law and deployment of dedicated assets in this abandoned stretch of the sea.
In only four weeks, the United Nations recorded 248 deaths due to shipwrecks in the central Mediterranean*. The tragic shipwreck off Cutro, Calabria, shocked the world. Most others occurred in a blatant silence. Often, these lives could have been saved if maritime coordination of Search and Rescue operations were efficient in the Mediterranean, and if international waters of the central Mediterranean had not been emptied of European-State-led Search and Rescue dedicated assets.
Since the end of the Italian operation Mare Nostrum in 2014 and furthermore since the official attribution of a Search and Rescue Region to Libyan maritime authorities in 2018, the tragedy unfolding in the central Mediterranean worsensed year after year. SOS MEDITERRANEE witnessed repeated critical delays or complete absence of coordination of searches and rescues since then. One of the most tragic events of the sort for SOS MEDITERRANEE teams occurred in April 2021, when the Ocean Viking faced a total absence of coordination for the search of a boat reported in distress, which resulted in a tragic shipwreck claiming up to 130 lives. Yet again, lessons were not learned and people in distress at sea continue to be abandoned to their fate.
As we have been able to witness since we started our life saving duties, people have been continuously trying to escape human rights violations and sufferings on unseaworthy, overcrowded boats, regardless of the risks of losing their lives in the Mediterranean. European states have been responding to this humanitarian tragedy with a deadly deterrence policy by withdrawing rescue services, financing and training external forces to operate forceful interceptions and criminalising and hindering civil NGOs dedicated to Search and Rescue.
We can only fear that more people will drown in the central Mediterranean as long as European members States will continue evading from their responsibilities. The re-establishment of reactive and efficient Search and Rescue coordination services in line with maritime law is crucial, as is urgent the deployment of European dedicated assets in the Mediterranean.
*Source: IOM Missing Migrants Projects