The waves become higher and the weather rougher. The winter months are tough on the many rescue missions launching from all around Europe to help save refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea at risk of drowning. It is perilous work where the rewards are counted in lives saved. Many of these rescue vessels are not fit for purpose in the harsh conditions of the sea. The organisations often interrupt their work for lack of operating funds – all of them rely on donations.
The 40-year-old MV Aquarius is one such rescue ship. But the former fishery protection vessel built in Bremen, Germany, is robust enough to face the torrid waves. It is jointly operated by SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), and in the beginning of the winter months was the only civic rescue mission operating. In late December 2016, Proactiva Open Arms joined them with their new ship, the Golfo Azzurro. So far, these two are the only civic rescue vessels in the Search-and-Rescue Zone (SAR-Zone) off the Libyan coast.
With more than 5,000 deaths, 2016 had the worst annual death toll on the Mediterranean. An average of 14 people have died every day attempting to cross this Sea.
Crossing from Libya to Italy is the most dangerous route. The casualty rate is ten times higher on this route than from Turkey to Greece. The weather, the declining quality of the wooden boats and dinghies provided by the smugglers and their perilous tactics are among the main causes for these alarming numbers.
Yet, despite the odds, people continue with attempts to cross the rough waters, and rescue missions continue with the endless struggle to save lives.