Migrant rescue ship Aquarius forced to end operations after ‘smear campaign’ by EU governments, charity claims

The Address | Benghazi – Libya

MARSEILLES – A search-and-rescue ship that saved tens of thousands of migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean has ended its operations, the charity that runs the ship has said.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and its partner SOS Mediterranee said they were forced to terminate the Aquarius’ operations due to a “smear campaign” by European governments.

The ship has been blocked at the French port of Marseilles since it lost its Panamanian registration in September.

The Aquarius was the last charity rescue ship operating off the coast of Libya.

Last year there were five groups running rescue ships.

“This is a dark day. Not only has Europe failed to provide dedicated search-and-rescue capacity, it has also actively sabotaged others’ attempts to save lives,” MSF UK head Vickie Hawkins said in a statement.

“It really is a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ for UK and European leaders as men, women and children perish.”

Nearly 5,000 migrants died in 2016 while trying to cross the Mediterranean from Africa and the Middle East to flee war and poverty, according to the UN agency International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

The number of migrants reaching Italy has fallen sharply since last year as smuggling networks inside Libya — a key departure point for mainly sub-Saharan Africans — have been disrupted and the European Union has stepped up efforts to increase Libyan coastguard patrols.

Data by IOM showed more than 2,000 people have drowned so far this year.

Italian magistrates in November accused MSF of illegally dumping toxic waste at ports in southern Italy and ordered Aquarius to be impounded.

The charity denied any wrongdoing and accused Italy of seeking to criminalise humanitarian search-and-rescue missions.

The public prosecutor’s office in Catania, Sicily, said it believed crew on the Aquarius and its sister ship VOS Prudence had illegally dumped potentially dangerous medical waste among ordinary rubbish between January 2017 and May 2018.



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