On Board the Aquarius

In 2015, more than a million people reached the shores of Europe by boat, a migration route known as one of the most dangerous in the world.

3772 people did not survive the dangerous journey and perished in the waters of the Mediterranean. In the wake of the European Union’s deal to send migrants and refugees back to Turkey upon their arrival, there has been a huge spike in those trying to reach Italy to avoid this deportation process. The EU’s deal with Turkey is pushing migrants and refugees into more dangerous migration routes.

In response to this growing crisis, Doctors of the World partnered with SOS Méditerranée to launch the Aquarius – a 250-foot ship equipped to accommodate up to 500 people. The ship and its crew are assisting boats in distress approaching the coast of Italy. Our team of doctors and nurses runs an onboard clinic and sanitation facilities, providing necessities including clean drinking water and health care to those rescued. The boat was launched in March and has conducted numerous rescue operations since.

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The latest rescue took place on March 28th. Just before 10:00 am the captain of the Aquarius received a call from Rome’s Maritime Coordination Centre about a boat in distress off of the coast of Libya. When our ship arrived on the scene they found a dinghy filled with more than 100 frantic people, including women with three babies. After the rescue was carried out our teams aboard the Aquarius were able to administer primary health care to many who were suffering from respiratory infections, and serious injuries from violence experienced in Libya. The majority of this group had started their journeys in Mali, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. Although suffering from anxiety and shock, there was relief at having survived the first arduous part of their journey to Europe.

Shortly after this first rescue the crew was notified of another boat in distress by the Italian coast guard. The Aquarius managed to save 247 more people in just a few hours, bringing the total amount of people saved to 378 in one day.

Our work in the midst of the European migrant crisis is vital. Many of these people are fleeing war, violence and insecurity – seeking safety and the opportunity to start their lives again in stable environments. Without our colleagues on the Aquarius, it is possible that some of these people would not have survived their journey.