The Aita Mari ship. Credit: Shm
The Aita Mari ship. Credit: Shm

The Basque NGO Salvamento Maritimo Humanitario will be starting a rescue mission for migrants in the Mediterranean from September, calling it ''a moral duty of EU states''.

The NGO Salvamento Maritimo Humanitario (SHM) has invested 750,000 euros in converting the Basque Aita Mari fishing boat into a rescue vessel for migrants. It plans to weigh anchor in early September for a search and rescue (SAR) route in the Mediterranean. 

Iñigo Gutierrez, the head of the NGO based in the Basque town of Guipuzcoa, told the EFE news agency that rescues and humanitarian aid to people fleeing conflicts, wars and hunger in Africa were "a moral duty of EU states''. 

Towards the ''corridor of death'' in Libyan waters 

Volunteers from the NGO and the Seville-based Proem-Aid expect to embark on the Aita Mari at the end of August to head towards the ''corridor of death'' off the Libyan coast. ''We cannot just stand by and watch as the sea turns into a cemetery,'' Gutierrez said in statements to the media. 

The mission, dubbed 'Maydayterraneo', has the slogan ''The People Always Save the People''. It aims to offer migrants ''the assistance that European governments should be ensuring, whose leaders instead spend their time playing with words and politics in order not to help in an active failure to provide assistance'', supporters of the mission say. 

The Aita Mari ('Father Mari in Basque) vessel, a 32-meter former tuna fishing ship, will be able to take onboard between 150 and 200 people. In addition, it will have a crew of between 16 and 18 members, five sailors and other volunteers that have professional skills in dealing with emergencies, such as firefighters, rescue workers and healthcare personnel, who will work for 15 days and then have 15 days off. 

NGO realizes difficulty of mission 

The heads of the NGO recognize the difficulties of the mission, due to the uncertainty of whether it will be able to find a port to disembark the migrants rescued. This has already led to an odyssey across the Mediterranean for the Aquarius of MSF and Sos Mediterránée, Proactiva's Open Arms and a 10-day wait for the disembarking of Eritrean refugees from the Diciotti coast guard ship in Italy. 

''Sicily has been ruled out,'' Gutierrez said, in light of the latest crisis involving the Italian coast guard. ''We hope to be able to disembark them in Valletta in Malta, the most convenient and nearest port,'' he added. However, the NGO volunteers are aware of the ''reservations'' of the government under Jospeh Muscat and have not ruled out possibly having to try ports in Corsica or even the Balearic Islands or Catalonia. ''We need to wait and see,'' he said.

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