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Mediterranean Sea

Life Support: Search and Rescue in the Mediterranean Sea

Saving Lives in the Mediterranean Sea


EMERGENCY’s search and rescue vessel, Life Support, began conducting missions in December 2022, sailing in the Central Mediterranean, the world’s most dangerous migration route. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), over 20,000 people have died or disappeared there since 2014, with more than 90 per cent of deaths due to drowning. 1,385 people died or disappeared along the route in 2022 alone.

It has become a no-man’s-land, where neither the European Union nor a single national government will organise search and rescue activities to ensure the safety of the people caught adrift and in need of help. And, as reported by Amnesty International, the EU supports Libyan coastguard efforts to intercept and forcibly return thousands of people attempting the crossing; upon returning to Libya, they face human rights abuses such as torture, forced labour and sexual violence.

In response, EMERGENCY is one of a number of independent organisations saving lives in the Central Mediterranean sea, forming a civil fleet of rescue ships.

Life Support
 can hold up to 175 rescued passengers, in addition to its crew. The 28-person team includes a mission coordinator, two nurses, a doctor, two cultural mediators, and two rescuers.

Our Search and Rescue Experience in the Mediterranean Sea

EMERGENCY first began supporting search and rescue activities in the Central Mediterranean in 2016, when we provided medical aid, cultural mediation and post-rescue assistance onboard Topaz Responder, belonging to the charity Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS).

Between summer 2019 and spring 2022, doctors, nurses and cultural mediators from EMERGENCY joined Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms onboard its eponymous ship to provide medical aid.

Our colleagues took part in 12 missions and supported the rescue of more than 2,000 people.

A mediator and a psychologist from EMERGENCY took part in Mission 65 in August 2019, helping handle a situation in which 107 migrants were kept on board when the ship was denied a safe port by the then Italian Minister of the Interior.

During our first mission on Life Support in December 2022, we conducted two consecutive night-time rescues, saving 142 people.



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Life Support: EMERGENCY’s Own Ship

Life Support is a Supply Vessel, a special service vessel whose features have allowed us great flexibility in reallocating space and outfitting the ship for search and rescue activities. It is classed as a ship for Salvage and Rescue.

The rescued people are welcomed as passengers on the covered main deck, which we have refitted from scratch and installed a clinic, toilets, beds and benches.

The main deck leads out onto the boat deck, an open space of around 970 square feet with benches and shaded by canvas, where people first come on board after they are rescued.

This is an important area for our medical staff, where they assess each person’s state of health with the same triage methods used in our hospitals.

Depending on the outcome of the triage, rescued people are given a code allocating them either to the clinic, the main deck, the boat deck, the observation ward, the open reception area or the nearby seating areas. Everyone’s health and well-being is monitored whilst they are onboard Life Support.

168 ft
39 ft
Start of activities
Emergency UK

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