Rescuing people in distress at sea

Interactive map, charts and data about MSF's search and rescue activities in the Mediterranean

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Why do we do Search and Rescue activities?

MSF continues search and rescue activities in the central Mediterranean, in order to keep saving lives at this deadly sea crossing and to highlight the human toll of reckless European policies. As states abdicate their responsibility for a proactive search and rescue mechanism in the central Mediterranean, NGOs are left to fill a crucial gap. Since 2014, more than 26,000 people have been confirmed dead and/or missing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean. The real number of fatalities is however likely to be much higher, due to unreported and “invisible” shipwrecks.


Where do we do Search and Rescue?

All rescues occur in international waters in the Central Mediterranean between Libya, Malta, and Italy where the majority of events where boats become distressed occur. We normally search for boat tin distress between 24-40 nautical miles from the Libyan coast.

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Who do we help at sea?

Everyone. Children, adults, men and women, no matter who they are, everyone we assist at sea is in a vulnerable position. We see people from all over the world taking this dangerous journey; from Bangladesh, Eritrea, Syria, Nigeria, Egypt, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Pakistan and many more. The one thing almost all of them have in common is the harsh conditions they have endured on the journey. After every rescue, we hear countless first-hand accounts of the alarming level of violence, arbitrary detention and exploitation experienced along their ways and in Libya at the hands of militias, smuggling networks, criminal gangs and private individuals. Many of the people we rescue have international protection needs or may have extra vulnerabilities, such as unaccompanied minors, single women, pregnant women, people with disabilities, severe medical cases and survivors of torture, sexual violence, human trafficking and/or shipwreck.

What are we treating? 

Our medical care

Straight after a rescue, our medical staff perform an initial triage to identify people in need of immediate care, who are then treated in the emergency room on board. Our medical staff regularly treat fuel burns, resulting from the prolonged exposure of the skin to a toxic mixture of fuel and salty water in overcrowded boats. Medics also often treat respiratory tract infections, skin diseases, general body pain and sea sickness. Women, especially pregnant women, receive dedicated care thanks to the presence of a midwife. MSF midwives have assisted the delivery of several babies onboard. For the most severe medical cases, medical evacuation is possible in coordination with the relevant maritime authorities via helicopter or boat.   


What are we treating?

Our psychological care

All MSF staff on board are trained in providing psychological first aid; and the psychologist on board is available for more specialised support. During these consultations, our teams hear horrific stories; many of the people we rescue are survivors of torture or other forms of mistreatment. Many of our patients, both women and men, are survivors of sexual violence. They have had to leave everything behind and many have seen family members, friends or people they travelled with die at sea or in the desert.

How do we do Search and Rescue?

MSF operates its own ship, the Geo Barents, to rescue people in distress at sea and provide emergency medical care to rescued people, making survivors' voices the main witnesses to the world's deadliest migration route. On board, there is an MSF team of 21 people and 15 crew members. The operations take place in international waters, north of Libya and south of Malta and Italy.

How do we finance our Search and Rescue operations?

MSF is an independent medical humanitarian organisation and our funding relies largely on individuals donating small amounts. This helps to ensure our operational independence and flexibility to respond at a moment's notice to the most urgent crises, providing medical assistance to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from healthcare. Since June 2016, MSF has not accepted funds from the European Union and Member States in opposition to their damaging deterrence policies on immigration.

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