Rescue organizations SOS Mediterranean and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) announced in a joint statement that they had “brought an end” to the ship’s rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea after what it calls “a relentless ongoing political, judicial and administrative campaign backed by several European states”.
The Aquarius ship has been in the Mediterranean since February 2016 and has rescued thousands of migrants from the Mediterranean as immigration continues to be a hot-button political issue across the European Union.
The decision, made public late on Thursday evening, was made after the Aquarius had to remain in port for the last two months following allegations of breaking the law.
“Repeated and targeted attacks against life-saving aid organizations, coupled with the EU states’ criminal disregard of their maritime and international obligations, lead to mounting life-threatening risks for people,” Director of SOS Mediterranee Germany Verena Papke said in a statement.
“The Aquarius has helped in filling void in the Mediterranean and now the repeated unacceptable attacks resulted in stopping it,” she added.
“Today, search and rescue at sea is nearly non-existent, portraying the failure of Europe.”
In recent months the ship has regularly run into problems with European countries.
The Aquarius was at the heart of a diplomatic row in June when it became stranded with more than 600 migrants on board following a refusal by Italy and Malta to take it in.
MSF lamented “the attacks carried out in the last 18 months by some European states” and the “grotesque claims of trafficking in waste and criminal activity” targeting both NGOs.
The ship has been repeatedly turned away by Italy and forced to stop in Malta and Spain in recent months.
French President Emmanuel Macron has clashed with the Italian government over the policy, accusing it of “cynicism and irresponsibility”.
But Macron faced criticism at home for not offering safe haven to the Aquarius after it first became stranded in June, although France eventually offered asylum to about 80 of the rescued migrants.
The International Organization for Migration said in October that 1,741 migrants had drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean so far this year. The group estimates that about 15,000 migrants have drowned since 2013.