MED SEA EMERGENCY: MSF assists in rescues involving 3,000 people in a single day

Yesterday –Monday, August 29- Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)’s search and rescue boat Dignity I contributed to the rescue of around 3000 people drifting in about 20 rubber dinghies and several wooden boats, one of which carried between 600-700 people, in the central Mediterranean.

"This is one of the largest numbers of people we have assisted in any single day since our search and rescue operations began over a year ago," says Nicholas Papachrysostomou, Field Coordinator for Dignity I. "This unbelievable number speaks to the desperation people are facing in their countries that pushes them to risk their lives to seek safety and protection in Europe.”  The Dignity I boat can hold a standard capacity of 400 people, yet due to the extreme situation yesterday MSF boarded 435 men, women, and children.  For the other people in distress, MSF distributed all of their stock of 700 life jackets and used our RHIB (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat) in order to transfer as many people as possible to other search and rescue vessels in the area.

“We have a remarkable story of rescuing twins who were premature babies delivered at 8 months and were 5 days old,” says Antonia Zemp, Medical Team Leader. “The mother was traveling alone.  One of the boys was not well. He was vomiting, had hypothermia and non-reactive.  After a first triage, our medical team decided to request an evacuation due to the fact that his health was so fragile that he would not have survived the long journey to Italy in our boat. We transferred both mother and twins to another vessel that could evacuate them to shore.”

MSF’s medical teams treated people who were exhausted and experiencing bloody diarrhea, dehydration, fever, hypothermia, and skin diseases. Of the 435 people rescued by Dignity I, 353 were male and 82 female. This total number included13 children under the age of 5 years and 110 minors, 92 of which were unaccompanied.

Currently, Dignity 1 is heading to Vibo Valentia, Italy in order to disembark the 435 people on board.  It will return to sea as soon as the boat has been restocked to continue its search and rescue operations.

“According to the Coast Guard, nearly 6,500 people risked their lives to cross the rough Mediterranean Sea yesterday and were assisted in 40 rescue operations by several actors,” says Papachrysostomou. “The EU’s response to the crisis at and within its borders has failed to address the urgent humanitarian and protection needs of refugees and migrants. More than 3,167 people have already lost their lives in the Mediterranean in 2016 according to IOM and UNHCR figures. The EU needs to put in place measures that will provide safe and legal alternatives for refugees and migrants to access the assistance and protection they are desperately seeking.” 

Since April 21, 2016, when MSF’s search and rescue operations began for this year, MSF teams on board the Dignity I, Bourbon Argos and Aquarius (in partnership with SOS Mediterranée) have rescued a total of 11,365 people in the course of 85 different rescue operations.


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Angela Makamure Press Officer, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Southern Africa
Angela Makamure Press Officer, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Southern Africa
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