The Mediterranean Sea, and in particular, the crossing from North Africa, has always been one of the most dangerous parts of the journey for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who risk everything in their desperate bid to reach Europe and a better life. After the Lampedusa boat tragedy of October 3, 2013 in which 366 people lost their lives, the Italian government established Operation Mare Nostrum to increase sea patrols and help avoid further tragedies. The operation ended in 2014 for economic reasons and was replaced by Operation Triton, which was managed by the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the member states of the European Union (Frontex). Unfortunately, Operation Triton was more limited in its scope and budget than the one it replaced. Moreover, the end of Mare Nostrum coincided with an increase in the number of people trying to reach Europe and deaths on the Mediterranean began to increase. According to the International Organization for Migration, in April 2015 alone 1,244 migrants lost their lives while crossing the Mediterranean.
Frustrated by insufficient action from the EU, in May 2015, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, or “Doctors without Borders”), launched a ship, the Bourbon Argos, as an additional search and rescue vessel for activities in the Mediterranean Sea. Specially adapted for search and rescue operations and able to maneuver quickly to respond to calls of distress, the boat is specially equipped and has the capacity to rescue 300–350 individuals at a time. The team on board includes medical staff and experienced search and rescue crew. “With the decision by the EU and Italy not to continue Mare Nostrum at the time more people than ever were reaching their shores, we could not wait on EU shores to see thousands more people die,” MSF declared.
These images were taken aboard the Bourbon Argos on November 13, 2015 and close to the Libyan coast. During the operation 93 migrants of different nationalities, including 31 Nigerians, were rescued from their dinghy by the MSF.
Also by Alessandro Penso: “Passage Through the Balkans”
Recommended citation: Penso, Alessandro. “Onboard the Bourbon Argos: The Médecins Sans Frontières Search and Rescue Operation.” Near Futures Online 1 “Europe at a Crossroads” (March 2016).