LIFE SUPPORT: Search and Rescue in the Mediterranean Sea


168 ft


39 ft


1,350 tonnes



Start of activities


EMERGENCY’s search and rescue vessel, Life Support, set sail on its first mission from the port of Genoa on 13 December 2022, headed for 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, and more than 1,300 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 has joined a handful of independent organisations at sea to offer aid, 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.

Why we are doing this

“This project is in line with our mandate and what we have always done: treating those in need, those who are in the wrong place at the wrong time, not by their own choice.

The Mediterranean Sea, as we know well from recent years, is far too often the wrong place to be. It has become a graveyard without any headstones. The number of people crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe may be lower than it was a few years ago, but as the UNHCR has pointed out, the crossings themselves are becoming more and more deadly.

The debate about charities conducting search and rescue activities at sea is often a divisive one, but saving lives should never be a question. Once again, we have made this principle the starting point for our project. Painted on the ship’s hull are the words of EMERGENCY’s founder, Gino Strada: ‘Human rights must be for all humans, every single one. If not, we should call them privileges.’”

– Pietro Parrino, Director of Field Operations Department

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, roughly , which we have refitted from scratch and on which we have installed a clinic, toilets, beds and a few 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 will be monitored whilst they are onboard Life Support.

The Life Support team is made up of a total of 28 people, including 9 crew members and 17 EMERGENCY staff, with 2 spaces reserved for any needs on board.

The medical team consists of 2 nurses and a doctor and is supported by 2 cultural mediators. The team has experience in complex humanitarian and health contexts.


'Life Support' our SAR Vessel

EMERGENCY’s 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.