The Geo Barents rescue ship, operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) | Photo: ANSA/MSF
The Geo Barents rescue ship, operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) | Photo: ANSA/MSF

The search and rescue ship Geo Barents will launch a new operation in the Mediterranean, Doctors Without Borders has announced. The ship will reportedly have several rooms onboard to provide medical assistance to rescued migrants, including pregnant women.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Thursday, May 13, that it would relaunch its search and rescue activities in the central Mediterranean Sea, between Italy and Libya, using its Norwegian-flagged ship, the Geo Barents.

According to MSF, 20 MSF workers and 12 crew members will be aboard the ship during its mission.

The Geo Barents was built in 2007, initially as a ship for geological analysis, and has now been equipped for search and rescue missions, MSF said. The 76.95 meter-long ship reportely has two decks for those rescued -- MSF plans to use one for men and one for women and children. Two inflatable boats aboard the Geo Barents will be used to run rescue operations. MSF said that several rooms on the ship were equipped to provide rescued migrants with medical services, including one room where women could give birth safely.

MSF migrant rescues

MSF has been involved in migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean for several years, co-operating ships such as the Aquarius and Ocean Viking. In its press release, the organization said that it had operated seven different humanitarian ships -- some in partnership with other organizations, and taken part in over 680 rescue missions, saving over 81,000 people. A year ago, the organization split from its partner SOS Mediterranee because they could not agree on a joint approach to rescues amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"People continue dying in the central Mediterranean with a bleak lack of rescue capacity. Faced with the incessant deaths and blameworthy inaction of states, we are obliged to go back to sea to bring rescue, treatment, and humanity, doing our part to stop these tragedies," the head of the Italian branch of MSF, Claudia Lodesani, said in a press release.

MSF criticized European states for not doing enough to help migrants on boats in distress in Mediterranean. "Over the years, European governments ... have failed to assist people in danger and have deliberately hindered, if not criminalized, the much-needed work of search and rescue NGOs," said Ellen van der Velden, MSF's operations manager for search and rescue.

She called on European member states to ensure that "a dedicated proactive state-led search and rescue mechanism is urgently relaunched in the central Mediterranean." MSF also said that it wants EU states to stop supporting the Libyan coastguard and that migrants rescued at sea should not be returned to Libya.

More than 500 migrant deaths

At least 555 migrants have died or gone missing in the central Mediterranean -- between Libya and Tunisia on the African side and Italy and Malta on the European side -- so far this year, according to the Missing Migrants Project run by UN migration agency IOM.

On April 22, a shipwreck claimed the lives of roughly 130 people -- the deadliest so far this year.


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