August 19, 2019
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Spain's sea rescue agency rescued about 50,000 migrants in 2018

Madrid, Feb 7, (efe-epa).- The Spanish government said Thursday during a Senate hearing that the state agency responsible for sea rescue operations had picked up nearly 50,000 migrants from Mediterranean waters in 2018.

Spain's Maritime Safety and Rescue Society, who supplied the figure, is the search and rescue agency in charge of maritime traffic control, safety and rescue operations. It also protects the maritime environment, but it lacks any law enforcement capacity.

Pedro Saura, Spain's secretary of infrastructure, transport and housing explained to the Senate various bilateral agreements signed with Morocco, Spain's southern neighbor, and said "49,688 migrants were rescued in 2018 on board 2,338 small boats, of which 9,717 were rescued in Moroccan territorial waters," an area that international agreements authorize Spain to intervene in.

Furthermore, the Spanish government is working closely with both the European Union and Moroccan authorities to ensure Morocco's maritime rescue agency is given more resources to assist them in humanitarian rescue operations.

Spain's maritime rescue agency has a network of 20 rescue coordination centers, a workforce of 1,500 people and operates a fleet of 19 vessels, 54 boats, 11 helicopters and 4 aircraft.

The Andalusian Pro Human Rights Association also announced Thursday that in 2018, 499 migrants perished and 565 more were reported missing close to Spain's Mediterranean territorial waters, four times the amount of 2017 drownings and the same as the migrant death toll in the past five years.

Furthermore, the Spanish humanitarian NGOs Proactiva Open Arms and Salvamento Marítimo Humanitario (Maritime Humanitarian Rescue) handed over to Spain's lower chamber of Parliament some 139,000 signatures demanding the government authorizes their humanitarian ships "Aita Mari" and "Open Arms" to continue their "humanitarian mission" rescuing migrants from the Mediterranean waters.

Both vessels were currently held in the ports of Guipuzcoa in the north and Barcelona in the northwest by the Spanish Maritime Authority, which depends on the Spanish Ministry of Public Works, after considering these ships could not guarantee rescued migrants a safe port at which to disembark.

The Open Arms NGO has already been involved in a series of humanitarian incidents while attempting to disembark rescued migrants at a European port.

The last Open Arms migrant disembarkment at a Spanish port took place on Dec. 28 in the port of Algeciras with 311 migrants on board, rescued a week earlier off the coast of Libya, after nearer European nations refused entry into their ports.

Many thousands of migrants attempt to make and thousands die during the perilous crossing from North Africa to Europe every year in a bid to find a better life.

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