Dear President Mario Draghi,
After yet another tragedy in the Mediterranean last Thursday, we believe it is crucial to ask you for an urgent meeting. Every time a shipwreck takes place, we hope it will be the last. Even this recent tragedy could have probably been avoided.
During the more than 24 hours that passed between the first Alarm Phone report and the tragic event, Ocean Viking waited for maritime authorities to intervene and coordinate rescue operations. However, despite the fact that the Italian, Libyan and Maltese authorities were constantly kept informed, no coordination of rescue operations took place. Or rather, it did not involve the only rescue ship present in that area at the time. The fatal result of this failing is clear to everyone: over one hundred people lost their lives.
This, Mr. President, is the reality of the situation in the Mediterranean Sea. Since 2014, more than 20,000 men, women and children have either died or disappeared in the Central Mediterranean which confirms its sorrowful reputation as the world’s deadliest migrant route.
After the end of the Mare Nostrum Operation, no agreement or provision adopted by any States has succeeded in reducing the mortality rate. Since then, NGOs have attempted to fill the vacuum left by these States. However, the absence of a centralised, expedient, and coherent coordination of search and rescue efforts causes tragedies, such as the one that took place last Thursday, to weigh on our collective conscience.
For several years, the intervention of civil maritime rescue ships were welcomed and appreciated by the Italian and European authorities with whom we had been collaborating continuously and efficiently to reduce mortality in the Mediterranean Sea. Then things changed: governments withdrew their ships and stopped coordinating rescue operations. Instead of being rescued and brought to a safe port, as International Maritime Law would require, people started to be pushed back to Libya by Libyan authorities. There, they are subjected to arbitrary detentions, violence and abuses of every kind: all of which are widely documented. As this was happening, NGOs became the target of a fierce campaign of delegitimization and criminalization.
As was reaffirmed by European Commissioner Ursula Von Der Leyen herself: “rescue at sea is not an optional,” but a well-defined State obligation. Therefore, it is a legal obligation as well as a moral one. As NGOs, we are at sea to fill a void. But, we would be ready to step aside if Europe were to establish an effective institutional and coordinated search and rescue mechanism with the primary aim of rescuing people at sea.
Dear Mr. President, we are asking you for a meeting to discuss concrete initiatives your Government can undertake, together with European authorities, to guarantee coordinated and prompt search and rescue operations so that saving human lives can again be the utmost priority and so that unacceptable tragedies, like the most recent shipwreck, never happen again.
Alarm Phone, Emergency, Medici Senza Frontiere, Mediterranea Saving Humans, Open Arms, ResQ-People saving People, Sea Watch, SOS MEDITERRANEE.
April 25, 2021