Migrant rescue ship Aquarius to end operations

A handout photo released on September 24, 2018 by SOS Mediterranee shows the Aquarius rescue ship run by non-governmental organisations (NGO) "SOS Mediterranee" and "Medecins Sans Frontieres" (Doctors without Borders) in the search and rescue zone in the Mediterranean Sea on September 18, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 07 December 2018
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Migrant rescue ship Aquarius to end operations

  • Nearly 5,000 migrants died in 2016 while trying to cross the Mediterranean from Africa and the Middle East to flee war and poverty, according to the UN agency International Organization for Migration (IOM)

LONDON: Search and rescue ship Aquarius, which has saved tens of thousands of migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean, has ended its operations, the charity that runs the ship, Doctors without Borders (MSF), said on Thursday.
MSF and its partner SOS Mediterranee said they were forced to terminate its operations due to a “smear campaign” by European governments.
The ship has been blocked at the French port of Marseilles since it lost its Panamanian registration at the end of September.
The Aquarius was the last charity rescue ship operating off of Libya. Last year there were five groups running rescue ships.
“This is a dark day. Not only has Europe failed to provide dedicated search and rescue capacity, it has also actively sabotaged others’ attempts to save lives,” said Vickie Hawkins, head of MSF UK, in a statement.
“The end of Aquarius means more lives lost at sea; more avoidable deaths that will go unwitnessed and unrecorded. It really is a case of ‘out of sight out of mind’ for UK and European leaders as men, women and children perish,” she said.
Nearly 5,000 migrants died in 2016 while trying to cross the Mediterranean from Africa and the Middle East to flee war and poverty, according to the UN agency International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The number of migrants reaching Italy has fallen sharply since last year as smuggling networks inside Libya, a key departure point for mainly sub-Saharan Africans, have been disrupted and the European Union has stepped up efforts to increase Libyan coast guard patrols.
Data by IOM showed that more than 2,000 people have drowned so far this year.
Italian magistrates in November accused MSF of illegally dumping toxic waste at ports in southern Italy and ordered Aquarius to be impounded.
The charity denied any wrongdoing and accused Italy of seeking to criminalize humanitarian search and rescue missions.
The public prosecutor’s office in Catania, Sicily, said it believed crew on the Aquarius, and its sister ship VOS Prudence, had illegally dumped potentially dangerous medical waste among ordinary rubbish between January 2017 and May 2018.
The Aquarius, which was launched in 2015, at the peak of the migrant crisis in Europe. (Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Jason Fields; . Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and slavery, property rights, social innovation, resilience and climate change. Visit


Cliff divers leap from Beirut landmark in international tour

Updated 16 July 2019
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Cliff divers leap from Beirut landmark in international tour

  • The competition was the fifth of this year’s Red Bull Cliff Diving Series that began its 11th season in April
  • Raouche Rock has featured on the back of postcards, on stamps, in family photographs and many Arabic songs and films

BEIRUT: Cliff divers used to competing in isolated spots have been leaping into the Mediterranean in bustling Beirut, the first time the Lebanese capital’s landmark Raouche Rock has hosted an international contest.
The towering rock, also known as Pigeons Rock, is an enduring symbol of a city where many other landmarks were destroyed by the 1975-90 civil war.
“Normally when we have cliffs like this, it is in the middle of nowhere. I have never been to a place with an amazing cliff right in the city center,” said Gary Hunt, a Briton who won the men’s competition on Sunday.
The competition was the fifth of this year’s Red Bull Cliff Diving Series that began its 11th season in April on El Nido island in the Philippines and winds up in Bilbao, Spain in September.
Hunt became the first diver in the series history to receive a perfect 10 score from each of the five judges at Sunday’s competition.
In the women’s contest, Australia’s Rhiannan Iffland, 27, scored her sixth consecutive win of this series.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you perform a dive. You still get up there 22 meters (72 feet) high and you still have all these negative emotions,” said Iffland, who has been diving since she was nine.
“To overcome that fear is something that I cannot express.”
Raouche Rock has featured on the back of postcards, on stamps, in family photographs and many Arabic songs and films.
Daring Lebanese have leapt from the rock for generations. Some have also committed suicide from it.
Hundreds of spectators watched the competition, which ended on Sunday, from the adjacent rocks and promenade.
’Young again’
Among them was 63-year-old fisherman Mohamed Itani, who said he had jumped off the cliff 36 times over the years for fun. “It is beautiful,” said Itani as he watched the divers. “It makes me feel young again.”
Judges mark the divers on their take-off and entry to the water and number of twists, somersaults and position in the air.
Hunt, 35, said he used to count to three just before he jumped but now just takes two breaths: one when he lifts his arms up and one when he leaps.
“There are three seconds in that air where you are just in total control. Your brain and your body decide what you do and you are completely free,” he said.
Itani described a similar feeling. “You’re like an eagle in the air,” he said.