The Aquarius enters the Grand Harbors in Sengala, Valletta, Malta Credit: EPA/ Domenic Aquilina)
The Aquarius enters the Grand Harbors in Sengala, Valletta, Malta Credit: EPA/ Domenic Aquilina)

Five international human rights organizations have launched an appeal to ask European leaders to support migrant-rescue ship Aquarius to ensure it has a flag, so it can resume its activity in the Mediterranean.

 A letter signed by Amnesty International, Human rights Watch, the European Council on Refugees and exiles (ECRE), the International Commission of Jurists (Icj) and the International Federation for Human Rights (Fidh) have urged ''European leaders to act quickly to help the Aquarius, the last ship of an NGO operating in search-and-rescue missions in the Mediterranean, to obtain a registration after its flag was withdrawn by Panama's authorities.'' 

A flag for victims in Lampedusa 

As reported by Human Rights Watch in a statement, the letter was sent to European leaders to mark the fifth anniversary of the deadly shipwreck in Lampedusa in which at least 368 people died, to urge countries to offer the Aquarius their flag.

''The Aquarius has saved tens of thousands of lives at sea, filling a gap left by States'', said Judith Sunderland , acting Europe and Central Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch, on behalf of the organizations. ''What better homage to those who died off Lampedusa five years ago than to ensure that the Aquarius - a symbol of solidarity and respect for human life and dignity - can continue its life-saving work.'' 

An online petition for the Aquarius 

Meanwhile the organizations Sos Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders, which operate the Aquarius, have launched an online petition to ask European States to ''take all measures available to allow the Aquarius to resume its life-saving mission as soon as possible'' by giving it a new flag.'

The Aquarius has been operating in the central Mediterranean for 31 months, saving 29,523 lives in more than 230 rescue operations'', the NGOs wrote in the petition that has already garnered over 176,000 signatures. ''In the last months, political manoeuvres have deliberately tried to stop the Aquarius' search and rescue mission,'' they wrote. 

''The ship has been de-flagged twice in a month's time, first losing the Gibraltar flag and then the Panamanian flag. If the Aquarius cannot operate, more people will die at Europe's doorstep and their lives will be lost in silence, while Europe chooses to close its eyes,'' the petition said.

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