, MARSEILLE, France, Jun 12 – The head of the French charity which charters the Aquarius migrant rescue ship said Tuesday that it would continue its operations despite the international standoff over the 629 people currently onboard.
The defiant comments from Sophie Beau, head of the charity SOS Mediterranee, suggest the row over the stranded ship could repeat itself — not least as migrant attempts to cross the Mediterranean increase in the warm summer months.
Beau told AFP a “one-off solution” had been found for the Aquarius after Spain offered to take in its passengers following refusals from the nearest countries, Italy and Malta.
But the charity’s missions will continue “as long as there are people drowning in the Mediterranean, as long as we have the resources, and as long as we are able to act and we are not kicked out of the area,” she said.
“The rescues will continue and it is crucial that European countries talk amongst themselves to find acceptable solutions” to bring to shore migrants stranded in the Mediterranean, she said.
Beau said her charity, based in the southern French port city of Marseille, was acting under international law in giving “assistance to people in distress”.
Beau acknowledged that Italy, whose populist new government refused to allow the Aquarius to dock, must not have to “shoulder the burden alone” after taking the brunt of the migrant crisis for years as the main entry point from Africa.
The ship’s crew are awaiting the arrival of two Italian ships which are set to take the migrants, rescued off Libya over the weekend, to Spain.
“We still don’t know when we are leaving, and we still have 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) to cross with the rescued people, some of whom are in a critical condition,” Beau said.
“It is starting to get tense onboard,” she added.
In the meantime, she said the Aquarius was unable to continue its usual rescue work off the coast of Libya.
“At this time the Aquarius, the biggest rescue boat in the Mediterranean, is going far from its rescue zone,” she told AFP.