MSF vessel Aquarius ends rescue operations in the Mediterranean

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…As Royal Caribbean to Build New Cruise Terminal at Port of Galveston for Larger Ships***

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says it has been forced to end rescue operations in the Mediterranean carried out by the vessel, Aquarius.

The medical charity blamed “sustained attacks on search and rescue by European states”.

Aquarius has been stuck in Marseille since its registration was revoked.

It has helped save migrants making the dangerous crossing to Europe from Libya and elsewhere but has faced strong opposition, particularly from Italy.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has accused charities running rescue ships of collaborating with human traffickers operating out of Libya to run a “taxi service” to Italian ports.

Aquarius had been the last charity rescue ship still operating.

Announcing the decision to end its operations, MSF said EU countries, spearheaded by Italy, had failed to provide enough dedicated rescue capacity of their own, then had actively sabotaged the efforts of others trying to save lives in the Mediterranean, the BBC’s Europe correspondent, Damian Grammaticas reports.

In a tweet, MSF Sea said “sustained attacks” by European nations “will mean more deaths at sea, and more needless deaths that will go unwitnessed”.

Aquarius has been laid up in Marseille for months, after Panama revoked its registration – citing intense political pressure from Italian authorities.

A de-flagged vessel cannot legally set sail.

Italy has kept up the pressure. Last month, prosecutors called for the seizure of the Aquarius over the alleged dumping of potentially toxic waste in its ports. MSF called the move “unfounded and sinister”.

Migrant numbers reaching Italy have fallen significantly this year amid moves to dismantle smuggling networks in Libya and increase coastguard patrols.

International Organization for Migration (IOM) data says more than 2,000 people have died or are missing making crossings this year, compared to more than 3,000 last year.

In the meantime, the Port of Galveston has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. on the development and operation of a new cruise terminal.

The long-term lease negotiations could lead to a 60-year transaction: a 20-year initial term and four 10-year options, according to the port.

Based on the details revealed so far, the new terminal will cover approximately 200,000 square feet on ten acres of land in the southeast section of the port known as Pier 10. Improvements to the pier bulkhead and apron will be made to accommodate the cruise line’s largest vessels. The new facility is anticipated to open in fall 2021.

“This new cruise terminal to be built by Royal Caribbean allows the port to continue investing in our infrastructure while growing our cruise business exponentially. This partnership will bring both larger class ships as well as more visitors to the City of Galveston and the region,” said Port Director/CEO Rodger Rees.

“Over the last 15 years, Royal Caribbean has brought over 2.4 million guests to Galveston driving an economic impact of USD 65 million each year. The development of a new terminal is crucial to our continued growth and expansion of the brand in the region,” said Michael Bayley, President and CEO, Royal Caribbean International.

Royal Caribbean currently has two ships that sail out of Galveston, Liberty of the Seas, the largest cruise ship to sail from the State of Texas and Vision of the Seas. The Port expects the new cruise terminal to generate an additional 1.0 million passengers halfway through the term of the contract.

BBC with additional report from World Maritime News