10 Jun 16 28 Nov 16

Search and Rescue: 1,300 people rescued in the Central Mediterranean

Some 1,300 people have been rescued from boats adrift in the Central Mediterranean by Médecins Sans Frontières' (MSF) search and rescue ships Aquarius, Bourbon Argos and Dignity 1 in the space of just 36 hours.

On 8 and 9 June, MSF teams on board the three ships were involved in a total of 11 rescues. More than one-third of those rescued were women and children (314 women and 171 children and unaccompanied minors). 

"Some of those rescued needed immediate emergency medical care,” says Irene Paola Martino, MSF medical team leader on board the Bourbon Argos.

“During this latest search and rescue operation, we had to take urgent action to treat one woman who might otherwise have suffered irreversible brain damage or even died. For those forced to cross the Mediterranean in these conditions, failing to get emergency medical assistance can be fatal. In situations like these, you realise that your presence can make a real difference. Only 24 hours after the rescue, seeing our patient recognising us moved me deeply.” 


Quick medical response

MSF’s medical teams on board mainly treated people for dehydration, fuel burns, hypothermia and skin diseases. A quick medical response can help prevent people suffering further medical complications, especially women and children, who are often the most vulnerable. 

Of the 362 people rescued by MSF ship Bourbon Argos, 57 were women and two were children. One woman experienced a severe hypertensive crisis while sitting on the deck of the boat, which was awash with fuel and seawater.

In a critical condition, she was winched up on a stretcher from the boat in distress to the MSF ship, where she was stabilized by the medical team.

Already traumatized during the time spent in Libya, her already precarious conditions before the departure were aggravated by the journey in the sea before being rescued. 

Medical attention received

Of the 702 people rescued by MSF ship Dignity I from six rubber dinghies, 366 were men, 225 were women, 22 were children under 14, and 89 were unaccompanied minors.

One woman was in urgent need of medical attention, having suffered second-degree burns on 20 percent of her body, mainly on her legs, buttocks and genitals, from contact with fuel mixed with seawater.

After cleaning fuel from the affected area and disinfecting it, the medical team gave her intravenous rehydration, analgesics for pain and antibiotics to prevent infection.

Women tend to sit on the floor of the rubber boats, rather than on the sides like the men, making them more likely to come into contact with leaking fuel mixed with saltwater, which can cause serious skin injuries.

Number of women increasing

“Over these two days, 38 percent of the people we rescued were women – which is much higher than in recent weeks,” says Astrid Borjeson, MSF medical team leader on board Dignity I.

“On one rubber boat, there were even more women than men, something we have never seen so far. The women’s vulnerability is higher: they arrive exhausted and frightened. Many are travelling alone or with their children. They tell us what they suffered during their journey and in Libya: abuse, sexual violence, detention, forced labour. European countries should give them and their children specific protection.”


Transfers between rescue boats

The  people rescued by Dignity I were transferred to the Bourbon Argos and to other non-MSF vessels. Bourbon Argos disembarked in Palermo, Sicily, on 10 June.

Dignity I is now back in the search and rescue (SAR) zone. The Aquarius (run by SOS Mediterranée) transferred the people it rescued to a non-MSF vessel and is currently heading to Trapani, Sicily, to stock up on supplies.

Since 21 April 2016, when MSF’s SAR operations began for this year, MSF teams on board the Dignity 1, Bourbon Argos and Aquarius (in partnership with SOS Mediterranée) have rescued a total of 3,349 people in the course of 27 different rescue operations.             

Find out more about MSF's response to the European refugee crisis