NGOs are back at sea to "defend human rights" and ensure migrant search and rescue operations, according to a joint statement by Sea Watch, Proactiva Open Arms and Mediterranea. Their ships have already departed and in the coming days will reach the area off the coast of Libya.
A joint statement by the NGOs Open Arms, Sea Watch, and Mediterranea on Thursday last week said it is necessary "to continue to defend human rights" despite closed doors and judicial investigations. The organizations are therefore returning to patrol the Mediterranean in migrant search and rescue missions.
The statement came just 48 hours after the seizure of the Aquarius, a migrant search and rescue vessel operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee, which was ordered by the Catania prosecutor's office.
The Aquarius vessel has become a symbol of the migrant odyssey. Last June, the Aquarius was the first victim of the closure of Italian ports to migrant search and rescue vessels. It remained at sea in the Mediterranean for days with 600 migrants aboard before Valencia agreed to let it dock there.
Towards 'the world's deadliest border'
Open Arms departed earlier last week from Barcelona and is tweeting with the hashtag #SeaResistance. The ship Mare Jonio, with the NGO Mediterranea, left the port of Licata, in Sicily, on Friday. Sea Watch posted a photo on its Twitter profile with the bow of its ship pointed towards the south. The meeting point for the three ships is the central Mediterranean off the coast of Libya, which the NGOs call "the deadliest route and border in the world."
Open Arms said the "intense campaign of criminalization launched against humanitarian organizations operating in the Mediterranean has reached the goal of eliminating inconvenient witnesses and has imposed silence on what is happening in those waters". Mediterranea said it is necessary to continue "in monitoring and witnessing" activities. "We are the only voice in a sea of silence," it said.