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[PRESS RELEASE] SOS MEDITERRANEE and IFRC alert to humanitarian crisis as deadly as ever in the Mediterranean


As Pope Francis arrives in Marseille to commemorate lives lost at sea, IFRC and SOS MEDITERANEE make an urgent call for all actors to dignify the lives of children, women and men survivors of rescues at sea.

Friday, 22 September 2023 (Marseille, France): Almost ten years after a devastating shipwreck off Lampedusa claimed the lives of more than 360 men, women and children on 3 October 2013, the central Mediterranean is as deadly as ever. During his current visit to Marseille, Pope Francis will once again alert the global public to the humanitarian crisis unfolding at Europe’s southern border by commemorating those missing at sea.

In a press conference onboard civil rescue ship Ocean Viking this morning, SOS MEDITERRANEE and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) attested to the situation for people trying to cross the Mediterranean in search of safety.

Jérôme, Deputy Search and Rescue Coordinator onboard Ocean Viking said: “Last month, we witnessed firsthand the lack of resources to save lives in the central Mediterranean. We conducted the largest ever rescue operation on the Ocean Viking. In 36 hours of nonstop operations, we rescued 623 people. It was clear that there were more people at risk of losing their lives than we could assist. The work we do is vital, but we cannot do it alone.”

The humanitarian needs in the central Mediterranean have been exacerbated by the growing food insecurity in Africa, the conflicts and recent that have struck Libya and other Northern African countries in recent weeks. With no alternative to seek safety, there is no reason to believe that people will stop attempting to cross the Mediterranean. The main objective of search and rescue efforts is  to people to safe places where they can access their rights. SOS MEDITERRANEE and the IFRC urge all States to prioritize sea rescue and to uphold maritime law and human rights along Europe’s southern sea border.

Xavier Castellanos, IFRC Under Secretary General for National Society Development and Operations Coordination said: “IFRC cannot turn a blind eye. Across the globe, people on the move face significant risks to their lives, dignity, and rights. This is a humanitarian imperative that we all have an obligation to address and is why IFRC is responding both on land and at sea. Our humanitarian work aboard the Ocean Viking is a vital part of our mission of protection and alleviating human suffering.”

Sophie Beau, co-founder of SOS MEDITERRANEE and General Director of SOS MEDITERRANEE France said: “The unfathomable death toll in the Mediterranean this year could have been prevented if the political will was there. Migration deterrence policies and obstruction of civil sea rescue have only led to more human suffering. As a prominent moral global figure as well as European Head of State, Pope Francis will use his visit to Marseille to recall the moral imperative underlying the laws and conventions that apply at sea: no one in distress should be left to drown. Ten years after the shipwreck off Lampedusa, we urgently call for global sea rescue missions and the recognition of the valuable support of humanitarian Search and Rescue organisations.”

Credit: Ania Gruca / SOS MEDITERRANEE